After several failed attempts, USC says relocation will actually happen
After numerous false starts and dashed hopes, officials say USC's School of Journalism and Mass Communications is finally set to leave the basement of the Carolina Coliseum.
On Friday, the design for the journalism school's planned move into the Health Sciences Building on the corner of Greene and Sumter streets was finished. From now until mid-December, the $18 million renovation of the Health Sciences Building must go through six different approvals, culminating with an approval by the state Budget and Control Board.
In 2012, the project will go from design to hard specifications, and the university will solicit construction bids. In 2013, the Arnold School of Public Health will leave the building to move into the Discovery Plaza of Innovista. The journalism school should move into its new location by 2014, according the Charles Bierbauer, dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies.
"It's a better feeling than we've ever had about this thing coming to fruition," Bierbauer said. "As a practical matter, these steps have been laid out."
Some faculty members, however, reserve their doubts.
"I'm completely pessimistic," said Jay Bender, a professor in the journalism and law schools. "It may happen. There are probably more false statements made about moving the journalism school than are made outside the women's dorms on Saturday nights."
Bender was an undergraduate journalism student when the journalism school first moved out of Legare College on the Horseshoe into the Coliseum in 1969. He was also in the USC School of Law when the institution moved into its current, now dilapidated, facility. As a student, he remembers being impressed with both buildings.
"Now they're both old and obsolete, and I wonder what that means about me," Bender said. "Since I've been on the full-time faculty since 2006, I think there have been three locations discussed for the journalism school. I've thought that the only way for the journalism school to get a new building is for Darla Moore to take an interest in journalism."
Throughout the 1980s, the journalism school tried to move out of the Coliseum into the current site of the National Advocacy Center, the Sumwalt building and Petigru College. For a variety of reasons, from insufficient funds to shifting priorities to unrealistic wishes for an entirely new building, each time plans were scrapped.
Most recently, in 2005 the journalism school finished plans to move into LeConte College, but the university couldn't come up with the funds for construction. But when the Arnold School of Public Health made plans to move, USC offered to pay for a renovation of the Health Sciences Building to house the journalism school. If the LeConte move had taken place, the project would have been larger, more expensive and less tailored to the current trend of convergent journalism, according to Bierbauer.
"It didn't take too terribly long to come to the decision that we needed to seize the opportunity," Bierbauer said.
When the journalism school first came to the Coliseum, it had 750 students and the wall between print and broadcast journalism was solid. Today, the school has 1,414 undergraduates and the Internet has forced journalism schools nationwide to reconfigure their approach to teaching students mass communications.
"We have a broadcast newsroom and a print newsroom that are 80 feet apart within the Coliseum," Bierbauer said. "Those things need to be merged, converged in the new communications model, and the physical constraints of the building don't permit that."
The planned move to the Health Sciences Building would increase the USC School of Journalism's square footage from under 30,000 to more than 50,000 and allow for more flexible use of space than the circular Coliseum basement. The renovation would also create a two-story addition to the building with a rooftop terrace.
While the university would foot the renovation bill, the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies must rely on grants, gifts and contributions to outfit the building with the technology necessary to educate communications students in the modern age. The plans for the interior include video boards, unfixed and easily rearranged furniture and classrooms that cater to students with laptops rather than traditional computer labs.
August Grant, a professor and convergence expert in the journalism school, said it's not the building that makes the difference.
"The single most important thing is the curriculum," Grant said. "If the curriculum addresses producing content for multiple media, our journalism students are going to be much better prepared for the jobs that exist today."
Bender said that, just as in the law school, the journalism school can turn out students with or without a new building, and has been doing so for years.
Doug Fisher, another journalism professor, said he thinks this time the move has a good chance.
"First of all, we're along in the design process. Second, the trustees and administration has shown a lot of commitment to get this done," Fisher said. "We're knee-deep in this plan, so this is not just rainbows and unicorns."
Bierbauer said he has begun to discern excitement from student and faculty about the plan. He added that journalism professors are natural skeptics.