SC State President Alexander Conyers

South Carolina State University President Alexander Conyers on Wednesday asked state legislators to fund a $209 million budget request for the 2023-24 fiscal year with five major capital projects to replace outdated facilities.

Conyers presented the university’s allocation request to the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee’s Higher Education Subcommittee, emphasizing the need to upgrade facilities so the university can better compete for students.

He noted that it had been at least 30 years since SC State had received a full state appropriation for a new academic facility, as more recent projects forced the university to incur debt.

Of the $209 million, the request includes $195 million for facilities and infrastructure priorities:

• $54.7 million for a new classroom building to replace Turner Hall. With wings dating from 69-95 years old, the complex houses much of SC State’s core subjects, as well as the teacher education program. Among the deficiencies are outmoded classrooms and inadequate access for people with disabilities (ADA compliance).

• $30.3 million for a new library. SC State’s Miller F. Whitaker Library is 55 years old and lacks infrastructure to support technology in a modern learning environment. The building has only a small freight elevator, also affecting ADA access.

• $45 million to replace Smith Hammond Middleton Memorial Center (SHM), which opened in 1968, with a new convocation center with more capacity. The center is used not just for SC State’s basketball games, but also for graduations and other campus-wide gatherings. SHM, too, lacks ADA adaptations, as the arena has no elevators. Conyers noted that the Orangeburg community also uses the facility for events.

• $40 million to replace Staley Hall with a new health and wellness facility. With similar issues to Turner Hall, Staley is home to athletics offices, the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences and other programs. The university does not have a health and wellness center on campus to provide students with fitness activities and promote healthy lifestyles. The new building would include a pool to replace the antiquated pool behind SHM.

• $5 million to bolster the campus’ outdated information technology infrastructure.

• A new $20 million building to house SC State’s new College of Agriculture, Family and Consumer Sciences. Conyers said the college is using shared space with other programs, and he expects enrollment to grow as agribusiness expands in South Carolina. SC State also is exploring more programming in health-related professions and veterinary technology.

• $2.7 million for ADA accommodations throughout the campus, including new railing and sidewalks.

The SC State president said the university also is needs new residence halls in addition to the $10 million in renovations scheduled for Sojourner Truth Hall. Conyers said the university has the bonding capacity to incur debt for residential facilities, but it does not have the capacity to support both residential and academic projects.

All other things being equal, he said, students will make decisions about where to attend college based on the quality of facilities. For SC State to compete with other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the university must have the programs, amenities and capacity.

Conyers noted that SC State attracted interest from 8,600 new students last fall but could only admit 1,100 because it lacked that capacity. He said if SC State were to reach 4,000 students in upcoming years, the enrollment would bring the university $15 million for recurring expenses.

The remainder of the budget request includes funds for scholarships, matching funds for grants and other academic needs at SC State.

The president thanked legislators for their support in the university’s record $52 million 2022-23 budget, which provided SC State with the funding for the Truth Hall and a $20 million expansion of the campus’ student center.

In light of underfunding of HBCUs across the country historically, Conyers asked legislators to take note of Tennessee’s decision to pump $300 million into Tennessee State University to address the discrepancies in funding between that state’s public universities.

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