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Journalism School Really Moving This Time

$25 Million Renovation Broke Ground Feb. 3

By Rodney Welch
Wednesday, February 19, 2014 |
For decades now, the idea that that the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications might actually move out of its cramped quarters on the first floor of the Carolina Coliseum has been little more than a frustrating rumor.

No sooner would students, administrators and alumni start dreaming of moving into spiffy and spacious new digs than they would see their hopes dashed.

Plans were drafted, re-drafted, announced, scuttled.

Nine years ago, InterCom, the school’s alumni publication, happily proclaimed that the school would be moving into LeConte College on the USC Horseshoe in 2009.

Never happened.

In 2011, administrators confidently announced in The Daily Gamecock that the J-School would move into the Health Sciences Building at the corner of Sumter and Greene by 2014, after the Arnold School of Public Health moved out.

“I’m completely pessimistic,” professor Jay Bender said at the time. “It may happen. There are probably more false statements made about moving the journalism school than are made outside the women’s dorms on Saturday nights.”

But actually, there’s every indication this prediction will work out, even if the target date was off by a year.

On Feb. 3, ground was officially broken for a $25 million, 55,000-square feet project to renovate the former Health Sciences Building, scheduled to be ready by the fall semester of 2015.

“We’re pleased that it’s happening,” says Charles Bierbauer, dean of the school since 2001. “We’re finally converting some of the skeptics.”

Bierbauer himself can hardly believe it, which is why he keeps driving by the site. Yep, there’s a construction fence, and hardhats, and stuff being hauled in and out.

The school, established in 1923, was moved to the first floor of the Carolina Coliseum in 1969. Ever since then, it’s been outgrowing the space, which it now shares with USC’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management.

“As large as the building is,” says Bierbauer, “the space that we occupy is a little less than 30,000 square feet, and it’s inflexible. All these cinder block walls around us do not come down readily.”

As a result, the school — with 1,500 students and 40 full- or part-time faculty — has made a science of making do.

“We have cannibalized space in the 12 years I’ve been here,” Bierbauer says, “where we no longer have a conference room, we no longer have a reading room, and we need office space — space to build the program. We’re cramped on one half of a floor of a not highly functional building.”

With nearly double the space at the new building, classes won’t be spread out all over campus. The new building will have a 150-seat auditorium, which not only means that students won’t have to go to the nursing school to attend lectures, but will also have a greater sense of identity with their chosen career.

“If we have 300 freshmen coming in, I’d rather teach two sections in there than three sections somewhere else,” Bierbauer says, “so that they get a sense of ‘I belong here, I fit here, they see me.’”

Also, where the current facility puts print media in one corner and broadcast journalism in another, the new facility will be more adaptive to a new media landscape, where the Internet has blurred the lines, and both newspaper and broadcast reporters find themselves doing each other’s job.

But journalism, as the name of the school indicates, is only half the story. There are also classes on public relations and visual communications.

Bierbauer said he doesn’t shed a tear if a student who arrives wanting to work for CNN winds up going into law or human resources. What matters is that they are able to master communication skills, which are portable anywhere.

For those committed to journalism, Bierbauer says the possibilities are definitely out there.

“It’s spread across this panorama of possibilities,” he says. “There’s more journalism being done than ever before. But it’s being done in a thousand venues rather than 20.”

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