College's building $300,000 over cost

Two county councilmen upset by overspending for Essex campus project

February 07, 2000|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Construction of a building on the Essex campus of Community College of Baltimore County has gone $300,000 over budget, drawing criticism from two Baltimore County councilmen.

"We're not happy with significant cost overruns like this," said Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat. "We'll revisit this during the county budget process in April."

Education officials concede the project went over budget, but say it was in an attempt to update facilities and attract students at a time when the community college is underfunded. The college gets most of its funding from the state. Other revenue is provided by the county and tuition.

The $7.6 million Classroom and Academic Support Building is scheduled to open this summer. The three-story Essex building will have 36,000 square feet of space, including nine classrooms, two laboratories and the Student Success Center for incoming freshmen. It will house more than 50 offices for records, student counseling and minority affairs.

While the college's building program is supported by the County Council, Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican, said the extra expense showed poor planning.

"This overrun is reminiscent of the bad old days at the community colleges," he said. "Prior planning would have averted this."

The cost overruns are the result of "changing economic conditions and unforeseen construction costs," said Stephen L. Kirchner, vice chancellor for finance and administration. In a large building project, a "$300,000 cost adjustment is not that unusual," he said.

Because of inadequate funding, said Kirchner, CCBC has not been able to establish a contingency fund to cover unexpected costs. It will have to take money from a construction project at the Catonsville campus, he said.

"All parties know our funding is low," he added.

Maryland's largest two-year college system has earned newfound respect after a reorganization two years ago. The campuses at Essex, Catonsville and Dundalk were merged under a new chancellor, Irving Pressley McPhail. Three new college presidents were hired.

In spite of the improvements, funding remains a problem -- even in a time of economic prosperity. A preliminary master plan recommended in December that more than $180 million be spent over two decades to reverse years of decay and disrepair at CCBC.

Del. Nancy Hubers, an Essex Democrat, has noted that traditional four-year state institutions are due to receive $1.23 billion in capital improvement funds in Gov. Parris N. Glendening's next budget. At the same time, Maryland's 16 community colleges will get $121 million -- 10 times less.

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