Over the past decade, USC Aiken has added the Convocation Center, the Roberto Hernandez baseball stadium and a cross-country course across from the main campus.
Those facilities are separated from student housing and academic buildings by the Robert M. Bell Parkway on the 118 Bypass, and USCA administrators are frustrated that plans for a pedestrian bridge have experienced ongoing delays.
The project has encountered several setbacks, but they have been overcome, said Dr. Deidre Martin, the university's vice chancellor for advancement.
At the time of the Convocation Center project in 2007, a bridge originally was a part of that initiative. When university officials saw how many students were crossing the highway, “The bridge became a higher priority,” Martin said. “But the whole process has taken much longer and is more complicated than we ever anticipated,” she said.
By the time USCA was ready to bid the project in the spring of 2013, the university learned of a right-of-way dispute between the S.C. Department of Transportation and a utility provider.
The right-of-way dates back to the 1960s, Martin said.
Yet no records could be located at the Aiken County Courthouse. The university and engineers had to adjust the bridge structure to resolve the issue and receive approval on both sides. That took nearly nine months before the project could get full approval and be put out for bids in March this year, Martin said by email.
Then the bids came in well over the $1.3 million budget, which was established from the start. Those funds came from three sources – SCDOT, county transportation funds and university bonds. USCA had the choice of eliminating the existing project, seek additional funding and start over again with the approval process.
“That was likely something that would have taken multiple years,” Martin said. “We needed to come in with the money we have.”
Since then, the project plans have been adjusted from custom-made fabrication to a prefabricated bridge. The quality will remain high, Martin said. She anticipates that bid requests for the revamped project should go out in about two months. Once a bid is awarded, construction should be completed within nine months to a year.
The current USCA site began with a single building in 1972. More academic facilities were added, and Pacer Downs, the first on-site housing residence was build in 1984. Two more were added in the past decade.
“We've evolved from being a commuter campus to a more residential campus,” said Martin. “It has been amazing to watch that transformation. But when you have more people living here, it becomes how to get them from A to B. For us, safety is always a huge concern.”
By email, Martin also said that university administrators are confident the structure “Will be an important addition to our campus. ... We appreciate the patience of the campus and community as we work through the bid process.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001.