Clemson trustees approve Oculus and other academic, athletic facility plans

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COLUMBIA — Clemson University trustees approved concept plans for several student life, academic and athletic facilities on campus at their winter quarterly meeting in Columbia.

The trustees approved a plan to build a $123.5 million student housing, retail and activity hub at the east entrance to campus on the site of the former Douthit Hills housing development. Pending state approvals, construction on the project will begin in 2013 with a fall 2015 opening date.

The project will be funded through auxiliary revenues. Student housing is a self-supporting auxiliary operation that receives no state or tuition funding.

The project will provide high-quality housing for Clemson upper-class and graduate students and an on-campus community for students enrolled in the Bridge to Clemson transfer collaboration with Tri-County Technical College.

Clemson President James F. Barker described the project as a “high-density, high-energy, mixed-use community in a park-like, pedestrian-friendly setting that will offer the academic and social benefits of on-campus housing with amenities and services that support students. This project responds to market demand and provides a level of quality that will help keep us competitive for top students.”

Gail DiSabatino, vice president for student affairs, said the project will provide more opportunities for students to live in special-interest housing and learning communities, which data show improves retention, grades and graduation rates.

Ronnie Booth, president of Tri-County Technical College, has endorsed the idea of housing Bridge students on the Clemson campus. “It will provide a supportive environment that will help them make the transition to college, succeed academically and develop a sense of community, all of which contribute to a richer college experience.”

Barker said the development will be designed to meet energy and sustainability standards and to be compatible with nearby neighborhoods. Design concepts, developed with input from community residents, include a landscaped buffer zone, walking trails and re-routing of roadways to minimize automobile traffic through neighborhoods.

“The site is the front door of Clemson and will sit on some of our most valuable and visible property,” he said. “It will be the first impression of Clemson for many people, so it’s essential that we do it right.”

Student support operations are expected to include a relocated student bookstore, casual dining options and other services that target a student market and complement local businesses.

The additional bed space will accommodate future enrollment growth and swing space that will allow Clemson to take residence halls offline for renovation or replacement. Priority projects include renovation or replacement of Johnstone Hall and the Clemson House.

The trustees also approved the concept for The Watt Family Innovation Center, a three-story, 40,000-square-foot facility to be built in the middle of campus near the library. In January, university officials announced a $5.3 million gift from three generations of the family of alumnus Charles Watt to help fund the building that is intended to be an intellectual center to prepare innovative students to take ideas from concept to the marketplace.

It will provide additional highly flexible space for teaching and research in science, technology and engineering. The building will have a robust infrastructure to serve the needs of an increasingly diverse student community and accommodate current and emerging technologies.

The total project cost is projected to be $16.2 million, financed through state institution bonds and private gifts. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2013.

The trustees also approved the athletic facility plan for an addition to the Memorial Stadium WestZone complex. The addition of a One Clemson Museum and entrance, known as the “Oculus,” will showcase the university’s athletic, academic and military heritage.

The 6,000-square-foot WestZone Oculus and One Clemson Museum Exhibit Space will include a lobby, interactive exhibits and displays from the university’s storied past, a rooftop terrace for family gatherings on game days, a 75- to 100-seat theater, gallery space and three levels to showcase the university and its military and athletic history. The total project cost is projected to be $15 million, financed through private sources. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2013.

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