University of South Carolina trustees voted Friday to relocate the university’s medical school campus to the edge downtown Columbia, signaling their support for a proposal that would also significantly expand its health service program.
Trustees backed a proposal that would eventually shift the School of Medicine from its current campus southeast of the city to the vacant site of a former state mental hospital. School leaders estimate the project will cost around $200 million.
“This is what it means to be a 21st century university: developing arenas of excellence that meet the interests and employability demands of students and parents while meeting the economic demands of the state,” USC President Harris Pastides said in a statement. “We have set our goal on being the best university in the region—and perhaps anywhere— if you wish to pursue a great job, and a great life, as a health professional. We know the state’s health care needs are profound and the job market is hopping.”
Hughes Development CEO Bob Hughes said his company will donate 16 acres of land from its Bull Street development site. The development firm had purchased the site next to a 165-acre acquisition from the Department of Mental Health in 2013. Since then a new minor league baseball stadium and office building have been built at that property, with plans to eventually construct mixed-use structures with apartments, retail stores and restaurants.
“This is purely a gift to the University,” Hughes said. “So there is absolutely no cost to the university for the land, and no city money will be spent on the site.”
The medical school leases its current New Deal-era campus from the Veterans Administration for $1 per year. But USC officials say that will increase to $7 million when the lease expires in 2030. School leaders requested $50 million from state legislators earlier this year to help jumpstart the move to a site near Palmetto Health Richland hospital. However, lawmakers were hesitant about the request, which came as the House of Representatives was already starting work on the state budget.
USC officials say the new campus is needed to address what is one of South Carolina’s biggest future needs. A previous study by the USC Moore School of Business estimated the state’s health care industry will grow by more than 125,000 jobs over the next decade. That study also projects the industry to be South Carolina’s largest jobs sector by 2030.
“We are thrilled with this plan for a new health sciences campus in Columbia,” medical school dean Les Hall said in a statement. “This new campus will be a tremendous benefit to our students and will help meet the need for more health care providers in South Carolina, while also growing our state’s contributions to biomedical research.”
The development would occur in two phases. First, a 130,000 square-foot, $80 million building would be built to house the medical school. Then an additional 165,000 square-foot, $120 million science and research laboratory would follow that could house research activities for the School of Medicine and other health science disciplines.
School officials have not identified a funding source for the estimated $200 million price tag.