Increase in student health fees funds project, officials say additional square footage needed
USC has saved $12.7 million for a 60,000-square-foot, $26.7 million expansion to the Thomson Student Health Center, Chief Financial Officer Ed Walton said at Friday’s board of trustees retreat.
Student health fees will fund half of the expansion, and a renovation reserve fee will pay the rest. Health fees have risen $30 from $140 to $169 in the past six years, and $23 of that increase is devoted to the project. Students already pay the renovation reserve fee, which will not increase.
USC officials and students say the project is necessary to serve a larger student population by expanding square footage and centralizing services.
“You’ve got a 40,000-square-foot Thomson Student Health Center that was built in the early ’70s for a certain population, and that population is much bigger now,” Walton said.
The current building was built in 1972, when USC’s enrollment was 24,381. The current head count is 30,715.
The joint bond review committee approved the expansion last week, and it is expected to receive final approval from the state Budget and Control Board Thursday. Walton expects the project to be completed in three years.
The five-story expansion, which will be a separate building adjacent to the current building, will take student mental health and counseling services out of the Byrnes Building as well as some portion of the Campus Wellness staff, said Nicole Carrico, public relations coordinator for Student Health Services.
“It would be easier to prescribe and deliver health care holistically if it were all in one building,” Carrico said.
Student Health Services saw a total of 51,000 patient and client businesses last academic year and 35,000 in the Thomson Student Health Center building alone.
Carrico said the building simply isn’t designed for the scope or type of health care Student Health Services now provides.
The building was originally built as an infirmary for overnight stays. Carrico’s office and others on the fourth floor still contain beds, places for drapes, a sink, a shower and a toilet. The building’s initial design limits its square footage.
“We struggle to find places to store tables, chairs and tents — things we use to do outreach,” Carrico said.
Carrico also said there were structural issues with the building.
The Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care reaccredits Student Health Services every three years. When AAAHC reaccredited Student Health Services in September, it received perfect marks except on its facility.
Stacey Bradley, associate vice president for administration, said the last five reaccreditation reports have noted that the size and design of the building are lacking.
“When your office is your exam room, you only have some much flexibility in serving students,” Bradley said.
Bradley added that seven out of 10 students who leave college cite health-related issues, and thus a new building was important from a student retention standpoint.
Walton said the plan for a new student health center began as a student initiative. Jerry Brewer, associate vice president for student affairs, said Student Government issued a survey and report on the issue and passed a resolution in 2007.
USC is also considering a second phase of the project, in which the current Thomson Student Health Center would be razed or renovated to become a 54,000-square-foot facility. In that scenario, the project cost would jump to $45.5 million.
The second phase has yet to receive approval, and Walton estimated he won’t know the possibility of the second phase until phase one is almost done, three years from now. Carrico said renovating instead of razing the current facility would not be cost efficient. She said the probability of phase two was higher before the recession hit.
“Plans have been scaled back,” Carrico said.