South Carolina State University is planning to build a new student health and wellness center where some bleachers were located at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.

The end zone bleachers closest to Staley Field were removed to help the university visualize the facility it can put there, President Alexander Conyers said.

“Other than our outdated gym that our football team and other athletes use, the average student on campus does not have facilities,” Conyers said. “So this will be a huge recruitment tool for other students and not only recruitment – our students just deserve this.

“Every other university is already doing this. We’re years behind in doing this.”

Conyers addressed the issue at the S.C. State board’s Sept. 21 meeting.

The stadium lost 2,000 seats when the bleachers were removed, leaving the stadium’s overall capacity at 20,000. Conyers said the stadium still seats more than most other Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference stadiums.

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The health and wellness facility that will replace the bleachers will be used by students, student athletes, faculty and staff, he said. It will replace the current gym.

A rendering of the planned facility was presented to the board during the president’s report, showing a design that could fit in the footprint of the removed bleachers. The side of the facility facing the field could hold new suites, he said.

A feasibility study is underway, and a finalized plan for the facility’s design and cost will be presented to the board for approval, he said.

Funding for the facility will come from increased revenue due to higher enrollment and cost-saving measures, Conyers said.

“We just have to decide what we want to build, how much it will cost and approve it,” he said.

The proposal for the new fitness facility comes as the university has made strides to improve buildings and facilities on campus.

S.C. State received $54 million in this year’s state budget to replace the Turner Hall classroom building. The university had requested a total of $209 million from the state, including $195 million for facilities and infrastructure improvements.

The university will continue to campaign for more funding from the General Assembly in the future, Conyers said.

“We thank them for investing in the students at South Carolina State University in the same way that they’ve invested in other students across the state for the past decades,” he said. “And we certainly know that we haven’t received the funding that we need, but we’re certainly in a much better place this year than we were last year.”

Conyers also addressed a letter sent by the U.S. secretaries of agriculture and education to Gov. Henry McMaster encouraging the state to make up for years of underfunding S.C. State.

He said it is no secret the university was underfunded in the past, but the institution will focus on the future.

Increased alumni donations are also contributing to the university’s accounts, Conyers said. In the past, most donations went into scholarship funds, rather than building improvement funds.

Conyers said more improvements will be coming to campus in the future.

“We need a good balance of monies for scholarships and monies that we can do other things because if we have all the money sitting in scholarship accounts – and we’ve had money sitting in scholarship accounts for decades, because we can’t get students to come because of the facilities,” he said.

Conyers said he will ask the board to broaden the university’s program that offers in-state tuition to out-of-state students. The board approved a policy allowing legacy students and high-performing students from North Carolina and Georgia to pay in-state tuition in March 2022, he said.

“What I’ve noticed about many of our high-performing students from out of state, they are challenged, they want to be here,” he said. “They do great things here, but they’re saddled with out-of-state tuition.”

Conyers said the results of that policy encouraged him to take it further. He suggested opening the program to more states, possibly limiting out-of-state students to 25% or 30% of freshman classes.

A finalized proposal will come to the board in the future, Conyers said.

The university welcomed 1,200 new freshmen at its convocation on Sept. 14, Conyers said. This brings the total number of students enrolled to 3,124 – 1,000 more than two years ago, he said.

“That’s $10 million more in tuition revenue that we can do better things with – hire more faculty, hire more staff, improve facilities, things that we didn’t do, that we did not have that same funding for,” he said.

Conyers estimates the university’s maximum capacity to be around 3,000 students, which the school has met. He is aiming for students housed in hotels to be back on campus next spring after the renovation of Sojourner Truth Hall is complete.

He thanked university faculty and staff for working through the “growing pains” of the school’s capacity problems.

“We know it hasn’t been easy, but we needed to demonstrate the demand before being able to request facilities or expedite the processes for approval for facilities,” he said.

Conyers wants to stabilize incoming freshman numbers once housing capacity has improved, he said. He suggested an annual limit of 1,000 per year, but said that number could change upon further study.

Conyers said he’d also like to focus on improving graduation and retention rates and not just increasing the number of incoming freshmen.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5553. Follow on Twitter: @bozardcaleb.

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