Construction to begin on mall campus

May 16, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Educators, county planners and store managers at the county's largest mall have big plans for Anne Arundel Community College's $18 million facility at Arundel Mills.

Construction on the 77,700-square-foot facility begins today with a ceremonial groundbreaking on the mall's sprawling property. When it is finished next spring, the building will include 22 classrooms, 10 meeting rooms and computer-ready lecture halls.

For the college, already growing at a brisk pace, the new facility guarantees a presence in one of the county's fastest-growing areas. For the county, it offers opportunities for residents in the booming western part of the county to bone up on skills that will lead to better job prospects.

And for the mall, it brings in a steady stream of students who may also become shoppers and employees.

"We did a market study of the area," said college spokeswoman Fran Turcott. "It did clearly indicate that, if we built it, they would come."

In fiscal 2001, the college enrolled more than 52,000 students in more than 2,900 courses. A trade group, the National Alliance of Business, named it Community College of the Year. But, Turcott said, the college's research showed that its penetration into western Anne Arundel was not as high as in Glen Burnie, where the college has a satellite campus, or Arnold, site of its main campus.

And though the college offers night classes at Meade High School, that building lacks enough lab space to allow the program to grow, and it was off-limits during the daytime.

For about a year, the college sought a facility to serve the growing western portion of the county. Turcott said the college was in discussions with Fort Meade about building a facility on the military base, but those plans fizzled after Sept. 11, when the base's security tightened and those without military identification cards couldn't pass through the gates without an escort.

"We got to the point where we realized this isn't going to happen in our lifetime," Turcott said.

The college then turned to Arundel Mills, where it already was operating the Retail Skills Center, a small facility focusing on customer service and sales skills.

Dennis Connolly, senior vice president at The Mills Corp., the Arlington, Va.-based company that owns Arundel Mills, said the company was eager to work with the college.

"In terms of being close to a higher education complex, we have found through our experience in other parts of the country that centers located next to education facilities do very well," he said.

Students not only shop at the stores, but also might work there while in college or seek management positions when they graduate. And with 3,500 positions at Arundel Mills, many of them in management, Connolly said the company welcomes a ready supply of fresh graduates.

Under what officials describe as a unique arrangement for both a public community college and a corporation, the Anne Arundel Community College Foundation Inc., a private nonprofit organization, is leasing the land for its new facility from The Mills Corp. The foundation will oversee the building's construction and financing and lease it to the college. Anne Arundel County has issued tax-exempt bonds to help the foundation finance construction.

"As far as we can determine, no other Maryland public college or university has used this kind of funding for constructing buildings, other than residence halls," county spokesman Matt Diehl said.

The college plans to enroll 7,500 to 10,000 students in day, evening and weekend courses at the site. It will offer associate degrees and hopes to partner with four-year colleges to offer bachelor's degrees to students who prefer not to leave the county for their schooling.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and County Executive Janet S. Owens are among the elected officials scheduled to appear at the groundbreaking ceremony this morning.

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