South Carolina State University is asking state lawmakers for $209 million, including $195 million for infrastructure and capital projects.

President Alexander Conyers laid out the institution’s request before the House Ways and Means Committee’s Higher Education Subcommittee on Wednesday morning.

“This is a very historic time with the state with available funding. This agency is requesting a one-time historic investment for infrastructure and capital projects. Our total ask is for $209 million,” Conyers said.

“Out of that $209 million is $195 million in infrastructure and capital projects. The current age of our buildings at South Carolina State is 67 years old. The current major issues include ADA compliance, flooding, HVAC, other health and safety issues. … We’ve patched some of these buildings as much as we can,” he said.

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S.C. State’s infrastructure hurts its ability to recruit and retain students and faculty, Conyers said.

He also said it’s been at least 30 years since the university received full appropriations for a new academic building.

“Eighty-five percent of our students are South Carolina residents. … We’re asking for this investment for South Carolina State students from across the 46 counties in South Carolina,” he said.

He also said the state Commission on Higher Education’s methodology for determining the allocation of deferred maintenance funding needs improving.

“It would cost us almost $100 million – $96 million – to bring things back up to 100 percent capabilities, and it would still be a 70-, 80-, 90-year-old building with that,” Conyers said.

The president continued, “The funding methodology uses student enrollment to come up with an amount awarded … for deferred maintenance. Therefore, a university like South Carolina State University with $96 million in deferred maintenance and 2,600 students will receive a smaller amount each year to address deferred maintenance versus a newer school with a smaller deferred maintenance bill.”

He said the university is “in a great place” financially.

“We have a strong balance sheet with modest debt-to-asset ratio. … We are in a position where we can finance new dormitories for students,” Conyers said. But the university cannot afford to finance new dorms and academic buildings at the same time.

He thanked the General Assembly for its $30 million allocation last year for the university to address infrastructure needs, including $20 million for a student center expansion, but said more is needed.

The main four projects on his list are:

• $54.7 million for the replacement of Turner Hall, which houses the university’s College of Education and Criminal Justice and general education programs

• $30.3 million for the replacement of Whittaker Library

• $45 million for the replacement of the Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center, making it into a convocation center for large community events and basketball games

• $40 million for the replacement of Staley Hall to develop it into a health and wellness center

The president said the first wing of Turner Hall opened in 1928 and is still in use, while the last and fourth wing opened in 1954.

“We want South Carolina State University to be a modern university so that we can attract and retain students, faculty and staff,” he said.

Conyers said a new convocation center will serve not just the university, but “the community of Orangeburg for convocations, for large event gatherings.”

The university is also seeking more money for scholarships and infrastructure development.

“We’re requesting a $5 million budget input to help us improve our technology infrastructure platform,” the president said.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, asked if that would solve problems across the campus.

Conyers said, “That’s campuswide in addition to what we can currently fund. We placed $5 million towards IT last year. This will help us get there faster campuswide.”

He continued, “Then our newest request for a building would be a new building, and that would be $20 million for the College of Agriculture and Family and Consumer Sciences. That’s our most recent college (currently housed in Staley Hall).

“That new college has about 200 students now. … If we can grow and find a new home for this college, then we’ll be able to grow that 200 students. We’ll be able to look at those additional programs that deal with agriculture and family and consumer science.”

He said that the university is looking at the possibility of partnering with Clemson University to develop a new vet tech program.

Cobb-Hunter said a vet tech program offers an excellent opportunity to partner with Clemson and address the shortage of veterinarians in South Carolina.

“So we really encourage you to explore that,” she said.

The university also requested $2 million in money to provide matching funds for grants.

“For more than a decade, we did not have access to federal dollars because we lacked the ability for matching funds,” Conyers said.

Those funds will be needed as the university looks to kick start its burgeoning transportation center, he said.

The university also made a $2.7 million request to enhance the university’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act throughout the campus. The request includes money for rails and sidewalks.

“In spite of these challenges, South Carolina State continues to punch above its weight. We continue to graduate students and place them in jobs. We continue to be the top-producing university for African-American generals … (and) we continue to place teachers in our classrooms across the state,” he said.

The university’s enrollment is increasing.

“Last year, we brought in 1,100 new students in August. That was the highest number of students in 15 years. As of (Jan. 17), we had over 8,600 applications for students to attend South Carolina State University. Compared to this time last year, we had about 3,000 applications,” he said.

The university has already processed 4,700 of those applications.

“Of those, we have over 4,000 students that we’ve accepted already for this fall. So we’re very pleased with those numbers,” the president said.

Conyers continued, “My number one goal in addition to these new projects is enrollment. I know with 8,600 students being interested in South Carolina State University, this year we can only take 1,100 to 1,200 because we’re hampered by facilities, our dormitories.

“South Carolina State is in a position to fund new dormitories, and we’re well on our way to doing that. We will make a decision soon. …”

He discussed the possibility of the university once again reaching 5,000 students.

“We never had more than 5,000 students. Even if we get back to 4,000 students, that’s about 1,500 students more than we had a year ago,” Conyers said.

“But with those 1,500 students, that’s another $15 million in tuition that we bring in. If you can assist us with the investment, we come to you for less for these recurring funding requests for scholarships, for maintenance, because we’re able to fund ourselves much better if we’re able to grow our enrollment,” he said.

“This past year, we more than doubled our alumni giving. We had a campaign for $1.25 million in honor of 125 years of existence. We raised $2.5 million, but we can’t fundraise our way out of what we need here,” the president said. “We need the state’s assistance.”

Cobb-Hunter said, “I’d like to give credit where credit is due. While I’m very impressed with you and what you’ve done, I think it would be wrong to not acknowledge that what you’re doing is building upon work that was done starting in 2017.”

Cobb-Hunter said she was impressed to see that alumni giving is up.

“That’s one of the areas that was a source of disappointment and, as an HBCU graduate, … all HBCUs have that same problem. So I really am impressed that Bulldog Nation has stepped up and recognized that a part of the responsibility is within the alumni of the institution,” Cobb-Hunter said.

She noted replacement of the university’s aging library is key, “in this day and age of information technology.”

She also asked about the restoration of Truth Hall and where it stands on the priority list.

“If you get 2,000 more students, we don’t have any place to put them. … The option for rental property is pretty limited. I want to make sure that Truth Hall has not gotten lost,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Ken Davis, S.C. State’s director of facilities/planning and construction said, “As soon as the semester ends, we will have the design ready, ready for bid and award. We think it’s about eight months’ worth of construction, and it’ll be back online for August of 2024.”

Cobb-Hunter said, “I think the fact that we have a room full of supporters for South Carolina State speaks volumes. … I just really appreciate all that y’all are doing. Let’s just stay focused. … I wish I could sit here and tell you I’m going to be able to get $200 million…. The House is going to do the very best that it can.”

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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