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Bulldog News

SC State University breaks ground on $54.7 million new academic building

Author: Sam Watson, Director of University Relations|Published: April 19, 2024|All News, Photo Galleries

“You’ve been neglected. You won’t be neglected anymore” – South Carolina State Rep. Bill Taylor.

ORANGEBURG, S.C. – As South Carolina State University ceremonially broke ground on its new academic building Friday, President Alexander Conyers took note of the unusually large number of shovels used for the occasion.

“That’s because we have a large number of projects that we’re going to be breaking ground on,” Conyers said, alluding to the university’s hopes of receiving more funds to renovate and replace several of the campus’ outdated facilities.

“I know that our students here at South Carolina State University deserve the same level of facilities as students at any other public university in this state. We are going t work hard every single day to continue to do that,” the president said.

If the sentiments expressed by lawmakers from the South Carolina General Assembly who spoke at Friday’s event were any indication, those hopes may be realized in short order.

“We know the needs here at South Carolina State University,” said state Sen. Kent Williams (D-Marion), a 1987 SC State graduate. “We know the challenges you face here each and every day, but we want you to know that you have a voice in Columbia, South Carolina, in the South Carolina General Assembly.”

Friday’s event was to celebrate the addition of SC State’s first fully state-funded academic building in nearly 30 years, the $54.7 million replacement for outmoded Turner Hall.

Adapting a phrase from Winston Churchill – “We shape our buildings, and afterward our buildings shape us” – Conyers described the promise the new academic building holds for faculty, staff and students at SC State.

“This new academic building will shape the next generation of doctors, lawyers, educators from South Carolina State University,” he said. “This new academic building will shape the next 23 generals from South Carolina State University. This new academic building will shape the next 15 university presidents from South Carolina State University to add to the leaders we provide for the nation.”

University officials estimate the new building to encompass 94,000 square feet of classroom, collaborative learning and office space. Conyers expects the project to take 1 ½-2 years to complete, with the current freshman class taking classes as seniors there in 2026-2027.

The project is in the design phase in the hands of Evoke Studios, an architectural firm that also designed the SC State Engineering and Computer Science Complex, which sits across Geathers Street from the future building’s location. Evoke co-founder Teri Canada, described the firm’s collaborative with the university’s leaders and academics. The building will house much of SC State's core curriculum programs.

“What we heard was that we want an iconic building here,” Canada said. “We want it to be an open space for gathering, collaboration and really sort of bringing people together. We want to make sure this is a multifunctional, multidisciplinary space for everything that’s happening on campus.”

Many described Friday’s groundbreaking as a milestone for the campus, its students, its employees and its alumni.

One wing of Turner dates back 95 years. Other portions date back to the mid-1950s. Among those in the ceremony’s audience were three men who attended SC State in that period and witnessed Turner’s completion: Boston Johnson, Class of 1955; Leo Jackson, Class of 1957; and Charles Smalls, Class of 1959.

Also present was a leader in the Class of 2024, Student Government Association President Zaya Cephus, who represented SC State students on the program.

“We are beyond excited for this opportunity for a new space that will provide learning and growth,” Cephus said. “We thank all of those involved in making this project a reality and look forward to a future filled with endless possibilities.”

SC State Board of Trustees Chairman Douglas Gantt also thanked the lawmakers who attended the groundbreaking, noting that the university seated them – Republicans and Democrats side by side – on the front row.

“We gave them the front-row seats for supporting and helping us build this new building for our kids,” Gantt said, “because we all know when all things are fair and equal, the individuals at South Carolina State exceed expectations.”

State Rep. Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) recognized her colleague on the House Higher Education Subcommittee, Rep. Bill Taylor (R-Aiken) for his role in securing the funding to SC State.

“To have him as an ally and advocate fighting for this institution, for funding this institution, it has been so good to have someone committed to make sure we do what we can and to bring the resources here,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Later in the program, Taylor said a tour he took of the university last year alerted him to the deficiencies in SC State’s facilities. He pointed to the fact, however, that General Assembly had appropriated $85 million for capital projects at SC State in the last two budgets. Those appropriations included the new academic building, the expansion of the Green Student Center and the renovation of Sojourner Truth Hall.

“And we’re not done with this year’s budget,” Turner said. “Money’s coming. You deserve it. You’ve been neglected. You won’t be neglected anymore.”

Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) made a similar pledge.

“Orangeburg wouldn’t be Orangeburg but for the Edisto River, but the Orangeburg that we know, the Orangeburg that we’ve lived in wouldn’t be Orangeburg but for South Carolina State University,” Hutto said. “It is the heart and the soul of this town that we call our county seat.

“There are needs, and this will be the first mountain that we climb – the mountain of Turner Hall,” he said. “But you know what the ancient Haitian proverb is -- beyond the mountains, there are more mountains.

“Beyond this building, there are more buildings, and so this will be the beginning,” Hutto said.

In addition to the projects the General Assembly has funded in recent years, the SC State administration has asked the state to allocate funds for a new library, a new convocation center, a new wellness center and the renovation of Nance Hall.

The final legislator on the program was Sen. Vernon Stephens (D-Bowman), a member of the SC State Class of 1980, who echoed Cobb-Hunter’s challenge to alumni to support the university financially.

“Bringing these facilities up to par is our responsibility – not only the General Assembly, but you, you, you and you,” Stephens said pointing to the audience.

Following Stephens was SCSU National Alumni Association President Hank Allen, who noted the importance for alumni to engage with not some but all lawmakers about their alma mater’s needs.

“When we continue to do those things, that’s going to help take our university to the next level,” Allen said.

The first phase of the project will include razing Azalea Hall and moving a small schoolhouse, both of which sit on the new building's site. Following the new building's completion, most if not all of Turner Hall will be demolished.