South Carolina State University President Thomas Elzey says he’s working to ensure the Clyburn Transportation Center becomes more than a truck-driving school.
There’s a Palmetto “truck driving school sitting over here, parking big trucks over here, offering to teach our students how to drive trucks,” Elzey told trustees last week.
He said, “We have this facility sitting there right now and it’s not being utilized.”
However, Elzey said he hopes to turn the facility into a research center that will play a role in transportation across the state.
The $4.8 million center — the first phase in the James E. Clyburn Transportation Center — was completed in December 2011 after 13 years of delays. It has space for automotive research and education, a chiller plant, underground fuel tanks, three automotive research bays and a fourth bay for cleaning and preparing vehicles.
It was launched in 1998 with funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation to do research and train minorities to work in the transportation industry. Plans called for an $88 million complex, including new archives.
Elzey said he’s been working with Dr. Kenneth Lewis to look at ways of revitalizing the original plans for the Clyburn Center.
Lewis has some ideas “that would fit into the original program for that center and figure out how we can revitalize that initiative,” Elzey said.
In March, Lewis said he was fired from the university after asking questions about grant money being diverted to a little-known foundation. At the time, school officials said Lewis’ allegations were claims by a disgruntled ex-employee and it had done nothing wrong.
Elzey also said he’s also looking for new projects and programs and will call on Sixth District Congressman James Clyburn, the board of trustees, government agencies and others to help move the center forward.
“It’s like a big onion with layers and layers,” Elzey said. “I’ve got to start peeling it back and, hopefully, it won’t start stinging me and burning me, but we’ve got to come up with a strategy and a plan for moving it forward.”
It makes sense for S.C. State to have a transportation research center and a place to train students to play a role in transportation across the state, he said.
Several trustees said that the university has no way to finance the center.
Trustee Kathy Novinger asked about the feasibility of calling on Clyburn for help.
Trustee Robert Nance, who works in Clyburn’s office, said that the issue is not in the congressman’s office, but matching funds. He noted that $27 is still available to the university for use on the center through the federal government.
The school’s plan was to build the center in phases and Phase I is already in place, Nance said.
“It’s sitting there,” he said. “What we need is a match of $3 million; ... $3 million will get you $27 million.”
However, Nance said he would try to facilitate a meeting between Clyburn and university officials to discuss the center.
In other business, Elzey introduced Sunya Young as the new vice president for institutional advancement.
Sonja Bennett, vice president for external affairs and communications, introduced Liz Mosely as the new director of public relations.
Young reported that overall donations for 2012-13 were down from the year before by 57 percent.
Elzey said the university is “in a deep hole,” but some major initiatives are in place “in order to meet our fund-raising goals for this year.”
He said he had confidence that Young’s “background, experience and enthusiasm will bring some progress to the university this year.”
Also, the board’s Academic Affairs Committee approved a new master’s degree in bioengineering “pending full board approval” and sent it on to the Commission on Higher Education for consideration.
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