The Daily Gamecock

USC proposes new student union, other major campus renovations to help accommodate student growth

<p>A computer-generated design of proposed plans for a new student union. The university presented the project and other campus renovations to the board of trustees on Jan. 20.</p>
A computer-generated design of proposed plans for a new student union. The university presented the project and other campus renovations to the board of trustees on Jan. 20.

Russell House, USC's student union, could be demolished and reconstructed starting summer 2025, according to a proposal submitted to the board of trustees on Saturday.

Vice President for Student Affairs and Academic Support Rex Tolliver presented plans for the Russell House project to the board of trustees during the weekend retreat. Architecture design firm Sasaki pitched other potential future projects that would look to help the university better accommodate student growth.

USC had its largest ever undergraduate freshmen class for the 2023-24 year, welcoming 7,344 students.

Student enrollment is expected to continue growing, Amiridis said during the Saturday meeting. And with it, new space is needed, he said.

Administration is proposing these plans to help accommodate for student growth. For the sake of the plans, the university and Sasaki assumed a 2% annual student enrollment growth over the next 10 years to conceptualize the university’s population needs.

Sasaki sent out a survey to students last semester to research what campus spaces students use most. Some of the project proposals are based on the results of what students reported in the survey. 

Discussions surrounding the student union proposal could continue as early as March. If the project is approved, one timeline showed construction starting in the summer of 2025, with the building being completed in the summer of 2028

Russell House Reconstruction

A computer-generated design of the inside of the potential student union. The project for the new building is estimated to cost $240 million if approved.

New student union

A consistently growing student population has created a need for a larger, more accommodating student union, Tolliver said.

Student enrollment has grown more than 48% since Russell House’s last major addition in 1976.

USC administration found that rebuilding a new student union on its current site would be cheaper and faster, Tolliver said.

Board member Hugh Mobley asked Tolliver about the logistics of the project, specifically for students that would be freshman at the time construction begins.

“We take our first-year student experience for four years, and we put it in the ditch,” Mobley said. “So that's a whole class (that could say), 'I went to USC and when I was at USC, we didn't have a student center. We didn't have that, we had to walk around fences, construction, etc.'”

To address these concerns, Tolliver said part of the proposal includes turning the health center behind Russell House, Thomson, into a dining facility. The renovation would replace some dining options lost due to construction and would be completed in summer 2026.

Russell House Reconstruction

A computer-generated map of campus with the proposed new student union. The plans also include renovating the Thomson building into a dining facility.

The Russell House project is estimated to cost $240 million, with an additional $60 million going towards the Thomson renovations.

“The way you help with the disruption is by doing a two-phase piece that we talked about,” Tolliver said. "Having Thomson down. Thomson is an obsolete building that is underutilized.” 

Student housing

New student housing projects were also proposed to the board, due to an increased demand for beds.

USC has added to housing over the years, including its brand new $240 million Campus Village opening in the fall — the largest housing project in school history. The complex consists of four residence buildings and holds about 1,800 beds. 

Sasaki representative Marianne Quirk said the company estimated USC will need to provide 2,000 to 2,500 additional beds by 2033 given growth trends to keep the percentage of students on campus. 

Thirteen sites were named to potentially renovate, reconstruct or entirely redevelop. Some renovation sites include Capstone, Columbia Hall, South Tower, Honors and both Bates buildings. 

Construction for new housing could be located at South Main Street, Carolina Gardens, the ROTC building, the intersection of Greene and Park Streets and the Carolina Coliseum.

The Rutledge building on Senate Street could be a private development partnership with the university to add graduate student beds.

“Some of them have to remain. For example, Capstone, right? It's an iconic building," university President Michael Amiridis said. "But when it comes to Bates or McBryde, these are decisions that the experts will have to support.” 

The Horseshoe and other historic sites

USC also has potential plans to repurpose the James F. Byrnes Building and McKissick Museum to help make them more engaging spaces for students. These historic parts of campus are underutilized, Tolliver said.

McKissick showcases the university's history through rotating exhibits. Under the proposal, it would have an updated visitor center, a cafe, new classrooms, lounges and group study rooms while maintaining its historic exterior. One of its galleries will stay in the building but most will be relocated to Senate Street.

The James F. Byrnes Building houses the office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, Carolina Tech Zone and office of Veterans and Military Service.

The building could be used as housing during renovations to other residence halls on campus such as McBryde, Capstone and Columbia Hall. 

Sasaki's presentations showed that both of these spaces could help connect USC back to its historic sites. 

“I love this recognition that there's things that could be done to activate the historic core that the president articulated at the start of this master plan,” university architect Derek Gruner said. “You articulate that objective or that vision, and then you look for ways, tactical ways to achieve that, and McKissick is a pretty bold one to achieve that.”

Academic space

Other academic buildings could expand to add study space.

Sasaki said it wanted to add more space to Thomas Cooper Library where students can study and collaborate. Additional entryways, various study spots and relocation of books are all considerations from the proposal.

A new STEM building was proposed in contribution to the South Main Street project. The project has already received some state funding, Amiridis said. The new five-story building would be located in the Science and Technology Building’s parking lot on the corner of Greene and Main Streets.

Additional plans were proposed to renovate the Swearingen Engineering Center and construct spaces around it to develop an engineering district.

Connectivity to main campus areas

The board also heard a proposal for a pedestrian bridge over Wheat Street that would connect students living on the south end of campus to main campus.

Many students are traveling from this side of campus, according to Sasaki's survey. This project, unlike others presented, is one that could start relatively soon, Amiridis said. 

Additional parking lots on Assembly, Park, Sumter and Main Streets could be added to make travel to campus more accessible. 

Majority of the plans discussed won't be approved or rejected by the board until a later meeting. Some are still in the early stages and may need more discussion.

"We have some road ahead of us," Amiridis said. "But I think we are very ready to start looking at your reactions to this discussion."