University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides says he loves dirt -- at least when there are ceremonial shovels nearby.
So he was happy Thursday when he helped break ground for a recreation complex to be built at the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Hilton Head Gateway campus.
"This is the next step in the evolution of this great campus here at USCB," Pastides said. "You cannot be a great university without a great indoor recreation center."
The 20,000-square-foot complex will include two basketball courts, a fitness and training room, and athletics offices. It will be complemented by four acres of outdoor, multipurpose recreational fields.
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USCB Chancellor Jane Upshaw said the complex -- to be in an area southeast of the campus library -- will be completed in October 2014. It will cost roughly $3.5 million and will not require borrowing, according to Beaufort-Jasper Higher Education Commission member Simon Fraser, who is asking students to think of a name for the new center.
The groundbreaking was attended by many USCB students, athletes and faculty members, all cheering at Upshaw's announcement about the complex. Upshaw said the complex is important to students' complete development.
"It will be a place to hang out, work out and just be in between classes," she said. "The complex will allow us to develop new activities, as well as expand our current programs."
The current fitness and recreation facilities at USCB are in the student center. But when the complex opens, Upshaw said it will allow the school to create a new and enhanced 3,853-square-foot student lounge.
She said the recreation center will serve as a location to host speakers and large events, orientation, and, in the event of bad weather, commencement ceremonies.
Whether the center will be open to community members has not been discussed, assistant vice chancellor for development Mike Bonnette said.
"This is a dream we've had for an awful long time," USCB director of athletics Quin Monahan said. "The impact it will have on this campus and our students will be profound."
While nothing has been decided, Pastides said this center would allow USCB to add some other intercollegiate sports like basketball or volleyball.
Monahan said he believes the complex will help the school increase enrollment and improve retention.
Student Government Association President Devin Mock agreed. She said she frequently hears from students about how they want more space to play sports, exercise and organize activities.
USCB is the last in the USC system -- which has eight universities, including Columbia and Beaufort campuses -- to build such a recreation center, Pastides said. However, it also is the newest, he noted.
He said he remembered when USCB did not have on-campus student residences, a student center or a science building. While the recreation complex may be a bit overdue, Pastides said, the campus has achieved great growth in just the past decade, and the center will take it to the next level.
He said he is excited to return in less than a year to see the final product.
"I like shoveling dirt," Pastides said, "but I prefer scissors in my hand and a big ribbon."
Video: USCB breaks ground for new recreation facility in Bluffton (2:17)
The University of South Carolina Beaufort held a ground breaking ceremony the afternoon of Nov. 7, 2013, at the site where a new recreation complex will be built at USCB's Hilton Head Gateway Campus in Bluffton.Delayna Earley
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.