Preserving Civil War submarine may set stage for Lowcountry campus
By JAMES T. HAMMOND
Staff Writer 'The State'
Clemson University trustees Thursday accepted the laboratory that is preserving the Confederate submarine Hunley, along with 82 acres of land, a drydock and a wharf in North Charleston.
The agreement with the city of North Charleston and the private, nonprofit group Friends of the Hunley sets the stage for Clemson University to receive $10.3 million in state funds to begin its "Restoration Institute," a plan to create a satellite Clemson campus in the Lowcountry.
Under the agreement, Clemson will be required to finish the Hunley's preservation and deliver it to a museum to be built in the region. Failure to meet the milestones in the agreement could cause the property to revert to the city.
Senate President pro tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, has been the legislative patron of the Hunley preservation since the vessel was discovered on the seabed near Charleston.
The Hunley's preservation has been funded by state and federal taxpayer funds, as well as private funds raised by the Friends of the Hunley. A complete accounting of the funds spent on the preservation remains to be done.
The pioneering Confederate submarine Hunley sank in 1864 after torpedoing a Union ship in Charleston harbor. The 40-foot, hand-cranked Hunley was lost for more than a century after it became the first submarine to sink a ship in warfare. It was discovered (in 1995) and raised off Charleston in August 2000.
Clemson plans to create the Clemson University Restoration
Institute, comprising the 82-acre site on the old Navy base in North Charleston and a yet-to-be-built Clemson University Architecture Center in Charleston's historic district.
"These facilities will form the nucleus of a vibrant university
research campus," Clemson President James Barker said in the cover letter to his presentation to the trustees.
The proposals for a greatly increased Clemson presence in the Lowcountry are not without controversy. The land the city of Charleston has given Clemson for its 22,000-square-foot architecture school on George Street isin the middle of historic Ansonborough, where residents are protesting the construction of a modern-style building amid their historic homes.
Clemson plans to break ground on the $7 million structure this year. And the Friends of the Hunley are the subject of a lawsuit in the S.C. Supreme Court over whether it must publicly disclose its finances and actions.
But Clemson officials assert the Restoration Institute will become an engine for economic growth for the Charleston region, creating at least 90 full-time jobs with an annual payroll of $5.3 million in its first phase.
Two state-funded academic research chairs will call the institute home, including a Professorship in Historic Preservation and a Professorship in Urban Ecology.
The $10.3 million for an academic building at the North Charleston site has preliminary approval under the South Carolina Research University Infrastructure Act. The new 22,000-square-foot building will complement the Warren E. Lasch Conservation Center, the site of the preservation work being done on the Hunley. The new building will be the first phase of a larger, 65,000-square-foot facility,
Barker said. Itwould be completed in 2007 or 2008. Clemson envisions the Institute becoming home to future preservation work on items recovered from the sea.