Arundel college opens $21 million learning center

School building draws praise at ribbon-cutting ceremonies in Arnold

September 15, 2004|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

For Annette Macke, a former staffer who recalls humble portable classrooms when Anne Arundel Community College opened in the 1960s, yesterday's grand opening of the Center for Applied Learning and Technology was "the most wonderful thing that ever happened" at the campus.

The three-story, $21 million building - the most expensive and stylish structure on the Arnold campus - drew similar praise from lawmakers, faculty, staff, students and visitors at the center's ribbon-cutting, where a few drops of rain could not dampen the mood.

"This building is looking forward to the future," said college President Martha A. Smith after the ceremony. "This is clearly a work force development building, preparing students for this decade and this century."

The 100,000-square-foot building houses studios for architecture and interior design, engineering workshops, computer science labs, continuing education classes and activities rooms with wood floors for dance, yoga and other exercise.

Savvy classroom design - set up for desk Internet access and PowerPoint presentations from a podium - will make the college's thousands of students more competitive and their learning more current, Smith said. Stewart Skubel, a Washington architect who worked on the project, said the building also is meant to invite students from different disciplines to come together in its common spaces and tucked-away lounges overlooking the woods.

"It's a center for students to gather and create an educational community," Skubel said of the building, an asymmetrical study in curving glass and brick, with a tall atrium, sloping roof and a grand cantilever staircase.

The building's landscape completes the stairs of a Greek amphitheater linked with the neighboring fine arts center. Also visible from the exterior is a simple garden that makes an environmental "green roof" part of the building. The plants and soil act as energy-efficient insulation.

Smith estimated that 21,000 students are studying for degrees at the college, and at least 32,000 students are taking continuing education courses, including professional certifications. Like other community colleges nationwide, AACC is becoming more attractive as tuition costs increase at four-year colleges and universities.

County Executive Janet S. Owens, on hand for yesterday's dedication, said the county provided more than $12 million of the three-story building's cost, the rest of which was funded by the state.

"This building is so important for the future of our county, for helping students to prepare and adults to retool," Owens said.

Architect Joyce Dawson, an alumna of the college, also worked on the building and pointed out small details such as a cork floor, three bright skylights and a kiosk with white and blue stripes.

"We think the building flows very nicely," Dawson said.

Michael D. Ryan, the architecture department chair, said - only half in jest - that students would soon take for granted a facility that took five or six years to build.

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