Construction of a controversial campus on Hilton Head Island’s south end is behind schedule, and students scheduled to start classes there in August will instead go to school in Bluffton until January, according to the campus dean.
The University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Hospitality Management campus on Hilton Head has been a point of contention with some residents from the beginning.
Construction on the two-story, 40,000-square-foot building on Office Park Road began in April 2017, according to town documents. Charlie Calvert, the Hilton Head campus dean, said construction is slightly delayed — mostly because of weather — but is expected to be finished at the end of September.
The most recent update on the project submitted to the town in December by Mike Parrott, director of facilities at USCB, says the university can “occupy the facility” Sept. 21.
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A ribbon-cutting ceremony is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 4, Calvert said.
Classes on Hilton Head won’t start until 2019
Classes begin in August, but won’t be offered on the Hilton Head campus until January 2019, Calvert said.
In the meantime, students will be at the USCB Bluffton campus, he said.
That wasn’t the original plan, according to Kerry Jarvis, public information officer for USCB. Since students will begin fall classes at the Bluffton campus, the school does not want to switch their classrooms once the Hilton Head building opens, Jarvis said.
Only junior-and-senior-level hospitality classes will be offered at the Hilton Head building beginning in January.
Several institutes will move into the new building immediately, and some students may be on the Hilton Head campus to do research after the building opens, Calvert said.
Students have not been notified that classes won’t be on the new campus until January. Calvert said when the advising process begins in March, students will be told of the change. The Bluffton campus is now “at capacity,” he said.
Jarvis said there are more than 2,000 students enrolled at the Beaufort, Bluffton and future Hilton Head campuses. There is no “cap” on classes, and students are still encouraged to enroll, she said.
About 150 students enrolled for the Hilton Head hospitality program, Calvert said.
“We expect to have no more than 200 students,” Calvert said. “We’re going to grow into that.”
Expected cost of the Hilton Head campus
The project is expected to cost $24.5 million, which includes the purchase of land, the demolition of the old building, and the development of the new building, Calvert said.
Financing for the project is coming mostly from tax increment funding.
USCB must contribute $2.5 million to the project, which is coming from the Beaufort-Jasper Higher Education Commission and the University of South Carolina Development Foundation. Calvert said funding for the project is not a concern.
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute will be housed in the building currently under construction, but will have the opportunity to raise $4 million for their own building at the new campus, Calvert said.
There are also plans to expand the Beaufort campus this fall, Calvert said.
Jarvis said housing is being added for new honors biology and honors nursing programs, and is expected to open this fall.
Hilton Head campus controversy
In 2015, opponents claimed residents were blindsided by the project.
Concerns included the impact a campus would have on traffic on the island’s south end, which is already heavily congested during the summer months.
Starting this month, nearly all traffic will be disrupted on the south end because the town must make improvements to Office Park Road before the campus opens. Construction is expected to take four months and should be finished before tourist season.
Kate Keep, a former Hilton Head Town Council member and Sea Pines resident, filed suit over the project in 2016, claiming it violated a town ordinance by adding more traffic to the Sea Pines Circle.
That case was dismissed in August 2017.
Contacted Thursday, Keep declined comment for this story.
Others have been in favor of the project, including Jack Daly, president of the Forest Beach Owners Association.
“We were 100 percent for the school,” he said Thursday. “It was there until 2004 and we never wanted to see it leave.”
He thinks bringing college-age students to the island will fill a “gap” in the island’s demographics.
Daly isn’t concerned that the building is behind schedule.
“Everything kind of ended up behind schedule because of the hurricane — our park (Coligny) is behind schedule,” he said. “Better late than never.”