CONWAY — Homecoming week begins Sunday at Coastal Carolina University, and many alums will be coming back to campus to attend Saturday’s football game, swap memories with old friends and visit old haunts – if they can find them.
Change has been constant on campus the last few years and picked up speed in 2011 after the board of trustees approved a master plan to redesign the university. Construction can be seen at almost every turn, with new facilities being added to accommodate what CCU officials hope one day will be a student body of 12,500. The plan aims to create a pedestrian-friendly campus, with parking areas moved to the perimeter.
“I had an alum come back who graduated in ’04, and he said, ‘This isn’t the campus I graduated from – I couldn’t find my way around this campus,’ ” said CCU President David DeCenzo. “I said, ‘Come back in three years, and you won’t be able to again.’ ”
A master plan was developed for the university about 10 years ago when land was running short on campus, and officials wanted to work as efficiently as possible with the existing space, said Eddie Dyer, CCU executive vice president and chief operating officer. They later decided to update the plan to accommodate growth at the university, which has a total enrollment of almost 9,500 students this fall.
Visitors who were on campus a year ago may have noticed the HTC Student Recreation and Convocation Center, which opened last year on Founders Drive on CCU’s North Campus, or that Blanton Circle – also known as the horseshoe - in front of the Singleton Building is now Blanton Park, but that was just a small sample of what was to come.
The HTC Center was paid for with a student-requested tuition increase of $100, Dyer said. CCU has more than $244 million in capital-funded building projects and gets some funding from a 15-year penny tax passed by Horry County to benefit education.
Dyer recently led a campus tour for retired faculty and staff members and said, “Here at Coastal, we seem to be in a time of transition.” The quote was spoken in the late 1970s by the late university Chancellor Edward Singleton, he said, but those words still provide an accurate campus description.
The tour began in Brittain Hall, a gleaming academic building on Chanticleer Drive West that has been built to the right of the Wall College of Business Administration. The building has 106 office and “smart” classrooms, and the university will break ground on its twin in about two years on the other side of Wall, Dyer said.
Brittain Hall faces the HTC Center, which has a water feature in front and gives a nice view for the 2,200 students and staff who use the facility, Dyer said. The back view, however, opens on construction under way for additional student housing, which will add 1,200 beds in two phases, he said. The new complex will be designated for freshmen, who already occupy all main campus housing and some at University Place, so that all first-year students will live on the main campus, leaving room at UP for sophomores, upperclassmen and graduate students.
The scenery continues to change on Chanticleer Drive East, traveling in the direction of University Boulevard. The columned Swain Science Hall to the right opened this year, featuring state-of-the-art research space and equipment, and eventually will form a science quadrangle with Smith Science Center and another science building, which the university will break ground for within the next two years, said Dyer, adding, “The sciences have built this institution.”
Michael Roberts, dean of the College of Science, said science was one of CCU’s larger colleges about seven years ago but has grown dramatically since then. He said some factors increasing the college’s popularity are the emphasis being placed on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, the collaborative nature of the college and its hands-on approach, getting students working out in the field.
“The neat thing that excites me the most is the fact that now we’re having the facilities to take this to the next step,” said Roberts, including the new marine science vessel that is due to arrive in South Carolina on Friday. “We’re going to have a much more substantial vessel, one the marine scientists can be proud of.”
Just past Swain is the Lib Jackson Student Center, where a 39,000-square-foot addition is in progress, one of two annexes planned, and will include a movie theater, retail services and event space. Across the street is the new Scholars Academy, built by Horry County Schools and set to open in January. The new public safety building can be seen near the intersection at University Boulevard, along with a large parking area that stretches to Lackey Chapel.
“I’m blown away with what’s happening at the university,” said Mike Pruitt, Class of ’84, who comes to homecoming every year from Charlotte to play golf with his former teammates from the 1982-83 World Series baseball team and to host a tailgate party for 75 to 100 people. “It seems like there are a lot more people looking at Coastal, and it’s becoming a more and more popular school.”
CCU alum Glenda Page of Galivants Ferry was on the alumni board that told trustees the university needed a football team to rally around and to bring alumni back to campus. She and her family stay involved - daughter Kaitlin is student body president this year, and they’ve never missed a home football game – and are proud of what they see happening on campus, she said.
“I’m very excited about all the changes going on,” said Page, chief executive of human resources for HTC. “I think the new student activities center with the theater is going to be a real positive from a student perspective - I’d love to go back.”
Other noticeable additions include custom-made trolleys, which are beginning to replace buses for the university’s shuttle service, and CHANT411, a new information service staffed by student workers, who usually can be identified by their teal bow ties and scarves. Anyone can query the service, which aims to make navigating the university an easier and friendlier experience.
CHANT411 has a presence at all home football games, and its tent will be located at the entrance to Brooks Stadium. Staff members will be answering questions from a stadium box during the game and can be reached by phone (843-234-3411), email ( Chant411@Coastal.edu), text (843-471-0411) and social media.
Lynn Willett, who retired from CCU’s student affairs office, said she comes back to campus for events, such as plays and concerts, and was vaguely familiar with what has been taking place, but she took Dyer’s campus tour to get more details about the new buildings and the university’s future plans.
Two things struck her during the tour, the evidence of long-range planning and the attention the university is giving to landscaping and preserving the beauty of the campus.
“There are so many demands on limited space for more parking, more asphalt, but there is a real vision for the university,” Willett said. “The university has very big plans and is taking them one step at a time. The progress is just remarkable.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.