South Carolina State University broke ground Friday morning for a new, $54.7 million academic building.

The 94,000-square-foot building will house the university’s general education courses and education, criminal justice and humanities departments.

S.C. State President Alexander Conyers, quoting Winston Churchill, said “We shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us.”

“This new academic building will shape the next generation of doctors, lawyers, educators from South Carolina State University,” Conyers said. “This new academic building will shape the next 23 generals of South Carolina State University.”

“This new academic building will shape the next 15 university presidents from South Carolina State University to add to the leaders that we provide to the nations,” Conyers said.

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The new building is being funded with money appropriated by the S.C. General Assembly. It is the first fully funded academic building provided to S.C. State in decades and represents the largest single capital appropriation in S.C. State’s history, according to school officials.

“I know that our students here at South Carolina State University deserve the same level of facilities as students at any other public university in this state,” Conyers said. “We are going to work very hard every single day to continue to do that.”

The facility will be built on Geathers Street, adjacent to the Engineering and Computer Science Complex. It is still being designed, but officials say it will be three to four floors tall and include classroom space, auditorium space, offices, conference rooms and student collaborative areas.

The design phase will last about three months.

Before construction begins, the university will demolish Azalea Hall, a student dorm, and relocate an existing building on campus.

Construction is expected to get started early in 2025 and last about 18 months to two years.

“We look forward to our freshman who are currently here to spend time in this new academic building,” Conyers said.

The building will replace Turner Hall, which has portions that are nearly a century old. Turner Hall will be demolished.

“This new academic building is more than just for students,” Conyers said. “It is to give our faculty a modern, decent, safe, efficient workplace.”

School officials say there has been some discussion about keeping Turner Hall’s theater wing, but that has not been officially decided yet and will depend on available funding.

Conyers thanked the university’s alumni for their support when S.C. State’s leaders were in Columbia to seek state funding.

S.C. State Board Chair Douglas Gantt said, “We recognize that in a post-pandemic world, we are full of challenges and at South Carolina State, that means that the challenges are even greater.”

He said the groundbreaking is the result of people working in a bipartisan manner.

“We all know when all things are fair and equal, individuals at South Carolina State exceed expectations,” he said.

Evoke Studios is the project’s architect. The company also designed the university’s engineering and computer science building.

“What we are trying to do is to relate it back to the engineering building in some way, but we really want to address the quad,” architect Teri Canada said. “The quad is sort of the heart and life of campus.”

“What we heard was that we want an iconic building here,” Canada continued. “We want it to be an open space for gathering, collaboration and really sort of bringing people together. We want to make sure this is a multifunctional, multi-disciplinary space for everything that is happening on campus.”

The construction contract will be awarded after the project is designed.

“This will be a construction manager at risk management process, which will include the contractor in determining what can be done for the price,” S.C. State Director of University Relations Sam Watson said. “A CRM contractor assumes the risk, not the university, if the project goes over budget.”

Watson said the university is hoping to select a contractor by August.

As a steady rain fell during the groundbreaking ceremony, Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, said it was symbolic.

“You have been through storms,” Taylor said.

He reflected on his tour of S.C. State last year.

“I was appalled,” he said.

Taylor told his fellow lawmakers what he saw from the House floor.

“I asked for the great reset,” Taylor said. “The students, this university, all our public colleges and universities. It is not a partisan issue. It is not about Republicans and Democrats. It is about good policy, it is about our students, it is about educating folks.”

“We need to take the politics out of all of this,” Taylor said. “This is silly.”

Taylor said people in Columbia are starting to learn more about S.C. State’s needs.

“Money is coming,” Taylor said. “You deserve it. You have been neglected, you have been neglected. You won’t be neglected anymore.”

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, noted that S.C. State is important to Orangeburg.

“The Orangeburg that we know, the Orangeburg we live in, wouldn’t be Orangeburg but for South Carolina State University,” Hutto said.

Hutto reflected on the challenges the university faced in the past.

“We know there were challenges and we turned it around,” Hutto said.

“Now when South Carolina State speaks, it speaks with the authority of the colonel. He is very well respected,” Hutto said. Conyers is a retired colonel.

“There are needs,” Hutto said. “This will be the first mountain we climb – the mountain of Turner Hall. This will be the beginning.”

Sen. Kent Williams, D-Marion, said the new building is just the beginning. He’s an S.C. State alumnus.

“It is like eating an elephant,” Williams said. “You take one bite at a time. We have taken a huge bite here today by appropriating the funds for Turner Hall and we have only begun.”

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said “The needs are great, the resources are limited.”

“I want to challenge every person under the sound of my voice to recommit to your university, to open up your wallets,” Cobb-Hunter said. “Help the university to meet the challenges that are before this institution.”

Cobb-Hunter added that while funding was made possible thanks to some bipartisan support, the university has $200 million in deferred maintenance needs.

“We are here from the government and we are here to help, but even more important is that you recognize the role you play in showing appreciation to your alma mater for what it has given you and you do that by giving back to the institution,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Sen. Vernon Stephens, D-Bowman, called the university “the anchor for historically Black colleges and universities in this nation.”

He also encouraged alumni to give. He’s an S.C. State graduate.

Stephens said S.C. State’s turnaround has been noticed in Columbia and the university is gaining support.

“It is not easy, but I believe that we are going to make it,” Stephens said.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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