COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland's colleges and universities are about to get an unprecedented infusion of money that should change the landscape of higher education in the state over the next decade.
State education leaders say the money in Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposed budget for new buildings and operating expenses is sorely needed.
"The biggest bottleneck in advancing our reputation is space," says Provost Gregory L. Geoffrey of the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP). "That's in terms of both square footage and quality."
The university has so many building projects on tap that school officials have been planning what to do about rerouting traffic around the construction sites.
The chancellor of the University System of Maryland (USM) says the proposed 11 percent increase in the operating budget should make the state's schools more competitive nationally.
"The studies we have done show that we are $200 million behind our peer institutions, the ones we are supposed to be emulating across the country," says Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg. "This $83 million would make up 40 percent of that in one year. It will have a big impact, primarily on attracting and retaining top-flight faculty."
The proposed amount might be trimmed by the legislature a bit, but it is not expected to drop a great deal.
There is $364 million in the capital spending plan for building new buildings and renovating old ones, the first installment of a five-year, $1.23 billion construction plan across the state. From a science facility at Bowie State University to a dental school at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, construction should change the face of virtually every school in Maryland.
No campus is getting more money than the state's flagship, the University of Maryland, College Park, where $94.2 million is scheduled for eight projects.
Nowhere will the new construction be more welcome than in UMCP's chemistry department. A wing of the E-shaped chemistry building will be torn down and replaced at a cost of $23.4 million. The new wing is scheduled to open in 2003.
"I've got a report from 10 years ago that says some of the labs here are the worst ever seen at any school in the country," Philip R. DeShong, chairman of the chemistry department, says of the labs built in 1950 and 1954 and never fully renovated. "You can imagine what they're like today."
"Frankly, I think they're a fire hazard," says Geoffrey, a chemist, noting that new lab benches are metal while the undergraduate teaching labs at UMCP have wooden drawers underneath the tabletops.
Even with the chemistry wing and a $34 million engineering building on tap, DeShong says, the effort at UMCP is small compared with the hundreds of millions being spent on facilities at schools College Park hopes to emulate.
"You walk into the new $100 million chemistry building at the University of Michigan, and it looks like a palace," he says. "It's really grand. Now if you're a top prospective graduate student who goes there and then comes to our campus -- and the two departments have about equal status -- where are you going to go?"
Business school Dean Howard Frank says he has a similar problem competing with Ohio State. "Their business school has a six-building campus," he says.
The governor's budget includes the last $2 million of the state's $6 million contribution to the $18 million addition to UMCP's business school.
That money matched $6 million put up by 1950 UMCP graduate Leo Van Munching Jr. The new wing will essentially double the space of what is already known as Van Munching Hall after his 1993 gift of $5 million. Construction should start in a few weeks on the 100,000-square-foot wing, which is to be finished in 2002.
"For us, this building is a matter of sinking or swimming," Frank says. "The building we have now was fully occupied from the minute it was finished in 1993. Our classes are in 17 different buildings around campus. That means we are not a community, we are scattered. This will be like the end of our diaspora."
Frank says the new building will help in recruiting faculty. "Business faculty expect top-rate facilities," he says, pointing to Ohio State.
Stephen Halperin, dean of UMCP's college of mathematical, computer and physical sciences, says, "People go where the facilities are, places where they can do their best work."
Halperin's college could not wait for state help. It was so strapped for space -- many undergraduates take courses in a corrugated metal structure called the "tin building" -- that the university cobbled together $5 million from internal sources to put up a four-story classroom building. Ground will be broken soon.
"We have no money to finish the fourth floor," says Halperin. "We're trying to raise another $3 million."
Geoffrey is looking for more money, too, focusing on a new behavioral and social sciences building. "We are still renting space off campus," he says.