Maryland Institute seeks AAA building

February 01, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

/TC In need of more teaching and studio space to suit its changing curriculum, the Maryland Institute, College of Art is seeking to acquire a nearby building that is now the Maryland division headquarters of AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The college has reached a tentative agreement to buy the four-story building at 1401 Mount Royal Ave. from the AAA division's parent organization, which put it up for sale last year.

Administrators have requested $2.05 million in state funds to help finance its acquisition and conversion for academic use, a project that will cost a total of $4.3 million.

The institute also is seeking $150,000 in state funds to complete a $372,000 renovation of its Fox Building, a former shoe factory just south of the AAA building.

President Fred Lazarus IV said the college's trustees have identified a need for 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of space for student and faculty use, including a new library, classrooms and private studios for independent students.

The AAA building would help fulfill the college's needs, he said, because it is close to the center of campus and adapting it for academic use would be less expensive than erecting a new building.

"We've had a desire and a plan to expand in such a way that Mount Royal Avenue becames the spine of the campus, and this building becomes a critical link in that strategy," Mr. Lazarus said.

"It's in line with the Fox Building. It provides us with the additional parking spaces we need. It gives us a more cohesive )) campus. It's a project we have been dreaming about for years."

The conversion plan also marks a potential strengthening of the Mount Royal cultural district as a center for entertainment and education, rather than offices.

Last year, Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed that the state tear down another office building in the area, the vacant Baltimore Life Insurance Co. headquarters, and build a $70 million performing arts center in its place.

If state legislators approve funds this spring to help the college buy the AAA building, Mr. Lazarus said, administrators hope to complete the purchase and renovations in time to start using the building in the fall of 1995. Work on the Fox Building would be timed to coincide with the AAA renovations, he said.

"We're not talking about any major change in the size of the institute," he said. "We're talking about quality changes -- changes in the curriculum to prepare the student body for the 21st century.

"This doesn't answer everybody's wish list. In an arts school, no one's needs are ever fully satisfied. But it's certainly all we can afford to do for a long while."

The AAA building was constructed starting in 1969 as a two-story headquarters for the American Automobile Association-Automobile Club of Maryland; two more floors were added in 1984.

In 1991, AAA-Maryland merged with the Keystone Auto Club of Pennsylvania to become AAA-Mid-Atlantic, with headquarters in Philadelphia. After the merger, AAA officials decided they needed less space on Mount Royal Avenue and put the building up for sale, said Garvin Kissinger, vice president of public affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

With 850 undergraduates and 100 graduate students, Maryland Institute is the only professional college of art in the state serving Maryland residents. It has a strong tradition of recycling buildings for academic use, including the Mount Royal train station and the former Cannon Shoe Factory.

Mr. Lazarus said the extra space is needed to help the college provide the sophisticated learning environments it needs to remain competitive with other art schools, particularly in the design fields.

He said that much of the teaching of graphic arts, illustration and interior design is now "workstation-based" and that the college needs more classrooms with computer and video technology.

Under the college's plan, the AAA building would be renamed 1401 Mount Royal Avenue and would be the home for liberal arts and design classes and for the college's art education department.

It would house the graphic design/illustration and interior design departments, design labs and other support facilities such as darkrooms and faculty offices. It would also contain space for liberal arts and art history classes, a learning resource center and a slide library.

In addition, its top floor eventually would be recycled to house the college's Decker Library, now in the Mount Royal Station building -- but only after the departure of a tenant that has leased the space until 1998.

The five-story Fox building would be the center for graduate painting and undergraduate art departments, and would gain more "dedicated studio space" for upper-level painting students working independently.

Mr. Lazarus said the college has increased its current capital campaign from $17.2 million to $22.5 million to cover the cost of improvements to the Fox and AAA buildings.

He said the college is seeking funds from the General Assembly and that any state money would be more than matched by private funds raised through the capital campaign.

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