As early as 1960, a dialogue was established between representatives of Sumter and Clemson University to establish a two-year branch campus. The desire for an institution of higher learning was not abated after the opening of Sumter Area Technical Center in 1962 and a partnership was struck in 1965 to establish Clemson's first academic branch in Sumter.
Clemson's President Edwards lobbied strongly for the campus to be located adjacent to Sumter Tech, presumably to encourage a merging of the two campuses into a community college at a future date. The Sumter County Commission for Higher Education resisted this concept, but were ultimately forced to agree to the plot selected by Edwards. The site occupied 35 acres of grassy fields that once served as the Sumter Airport.
The original campus designed by Charles McCreight consisted of four one-story buildings: an Administration Building, Classroom Building, Science Building and Library totaling 59,000 square feet. The Administration Building was sited on Miller Drive, considered the "front door" of the campus. The remaining buildings were located behind the Administration Building, forming a pedestrian courtyard between them. The landscape design by Robert Marvin featured many trees, mostly live oaks and bald cypress trees. The facility was formally dedicated on April 24, 1967.
The campus was designed to accommodate 550 students, but growth under the leadership of Clemson University was slow. Initial enrollment in 1966 was 97 students; by 1972 this number was only 245, far below the expected growth rate. Several factors have been suggested for this lack of growth: Clemson's attempt to match the Sumter curriculum with that of the main campus, and problematic enrollment procedures are the most noteworthy. In 1973, Sumter officials successfully negotiated with Clemson and the University of South Carolina to join the USC branch campus system.
With enrollment now at an accelerated pace, USC Sumter officials began planning for expansion. The original proposals included a gymnasium, but this plan was dropped to more quickly provide much needed offices, classrooms and student government areas. The final design by James, DuRant and Matthews featured an assembly area, student activities offices, lounge, kitchen, art and music rooms, and lecture classroom totaling 15,000 SF. It was completed in December 1975.
The new building did not completely fulfill the space needs on campus. By 1979, demand for office and classroom space necessitated purchasing five portable buildings, presumably for temporary use. The use of portables has now extended to eight.
State funding of new facilities for public two-year institutions became possible in the late seventies; this dramatically increased the flexibility for USC Sumter to expand. The first facility to be financed with State funds was the Nettles-Schwartz Building, completed in March 1985. Approvals and planning took many years, but the facility nearly doubled the size of the campus by adding 67,000 square feet. The Nettles building housed a 507 seat auditorium, a gymnasium, three handball/racquetball courts, a wellness center, showers and lockers for men and women, a conference room/office complex, and a spacious lobby. In the Schwartz building were the Arts and Letters/Humanities Division offices, 26 faculty offices, six classrooms, a large seminar room, computer center, conference room, a study area equipped with carrels, and an attractive and comfortable lounge area.
Nettles-Schwartz also created a new image for the USC Sumter facilities, one that would be replicated on all future projects. The cream-colored brick and minimal detailing of the original campus buildings was abandoned in favor a polished gray block with burgundy accents.
The growth of USC Sumter resulted in increased space needs for the administration to adequately serve the institution. Moreover, the Business/Finance Office and the Offices of Graduate Regional Studies and Continuing Education had been moved to the portable units at the rear of the campus.
Expansion of the Administration Building was accommodated by adding approximately 1000 SF to the existing 12,000 square feet ground level and adding a second story of approximately 15,000 square feet. This design by James, DuRant, Matthews and Shelley was completed in 1990.
Attempts were made as early as 1978 to expand the Library at USC Sumter. Twice the school was cited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for a deficiency in library facilities. Construction is finally complete on the 30,000 SF addition designed by Architects Boudreaux, Hultstrand & Carter, Ltd. The new structure consists of a two-story addition to the front of the existing library and a two-story addition to the rear. The book storage and student seating capacities will more than double in the new facility, accommodating 120,000 books and space to seat 325 students. The second floor houses the school's new computer center which consolidates USC Sumter's computer operation.
USC Sumter's Five Year Permanent Improvement Plan of 1992 identified four additional projects to be considered after the Library renovation: a new Instructional Laboratories Building, Maintenance Building, renovation of the existing Science and Classroom Buildings, and an Education Facility at the Shaw campus. This masterplan document substantiates these needs and addresses an orderly development of the campus as a whole.
A new update to the campus master plan was completed in early 2003.