Originally created 06/07/01

Cuts threaten USC Aiken's facility funds



AIKEN - The University of South Carolina Aiken might be passing the hat for private donations if lawmakers don't come through with a supplemental bond issue for its proposed $15 million arena and athletic complex.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, says he won't agree to a bond issue in the next fiscal year. The House of Representatives included $3 million toward the project in its version of the state budget, but the Senate version did not. And at the end of the legislative day Wednesday - with only one more day to go - a conference committee was not through thrashing out the differences.

Last year, the Legislature approved a $6 million bond issue for the complex, pushed through by Clearwater Democratic Sen. Tommy Moore, who said Mr. Leatherman is ignoring low-interest rates that make this "a great time to do the bond bill" with major savings for the state.

The university, which has tripled its student body since present facilities were built, also wants the Aiken County Council to issue $5 million in bonds, which could be retired in 10 years.

USC Aiken is down for a 1 mill increase in the county budget. That would generate about $330,000 a year.

Thomas L. Hallman, USC Aiken chancellor, told the county council this week that would be enough to pay on current bonds and cover interest on new ones. New bonds could be paid off at an accelerated rate when the present debt is paid, he said.

But without more state money, there still wouldn't be enough to pay for the proposed 100,000-square-foot building with five courts for basketball and volleyball, dressing rooms, classrooms and meeting spaces.

"In the event that additional state funds do not become available," Dr. Gallman said, "USC Aiken will step up efforts to identify private sources to provide this capital."

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.