HCC sees more classrooms, housing in its future

Plans for Columbia campus, Belmont open to comment

August 28, 2005|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

In the next decade, Howard Community College plans to add an allied health building, new business and mathematics buildings and student housing to its Columbia campus, according to a draft version of the school's new master plan.

And in Elkridge, a draft master plan for the Belmont Conference Center, which the college's educational foundation purchased in November, calls for an addition to the existing carriage house for classroom space, a new "inn" with 50 guest rooms and a new access road.

The college will hold a community meeting at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Belmont to discuss the plan for that property. A meeting about the Columbia campus will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 20 on campus in the Instructional Lab Building.

The plans, which the state requires every five years, are expected to be finalized by November.

The number of students at the college has grown significantly, but "buildings have not kept up with that pace," said Matthew D'Amico, a consultant with the Design Collective, who led the planning process.

HCC has the least amount of space per student of any community college in Maryland, D'Amico said. That takes into consideration the instructional building that opened in 2002, the 78,000-square-foot visual and performing arts instructional building that is under construction and the 103,000-square-foot student services building for which ground is to be broken soon.

According to the draft master plan, the next round of building will create a southern quad that includes the existing physical education building near Hickory Ridge Road.

The first priority, D'Amico said, is a 200,0000-square-foot allied health building that would have laboratories and classrooms for nursing, other health care areas and sciences. The earliest that plans could be drawn for that building is 2008.

Next in line would be a 100,000-square-foot business and computing building and a 100,000-square-foot mathematics building.

The new buildings would replace parking lots. Three parking garages would be built to accommodate parking in addition to a garage that is scheduled to be built this fall.

The school's capital funding comes from the state, Howard County, some student fees and donors.

The college also has decided to move forward with on-campus housing, after surveys and focus groups indicated there is a strong interest among students.

Apartment-style residences with 300 to 400 beds are expected to be built close to Little Patuxent Parkway on what is now a parking lot.

The units would be built by an independent developer and paid for with the students' rent, said Mary Ellen Duncan, HCC's president.

School administrators will decide later whether the college or an outside agency will manage the buildings, Duncan said. The earliest the housing would open is fall 2008.

Duncan said she hopes housing will increase retention of students. Like sports teams and honors programs, "living with people also ... keeps students involved and moving forward with their education," she said.

At Belmont, planners tried to preserve the atmosphere of the 300-year-old manor house and its surroundings while making the center a profitable business and a resource for HCC students, D'Amico said.

Immediately, school officials would like to renovate an existing barn and carriage house to improve offices and meeting facilities. The plan also calls for an addition to the carriage house that would have classrooms and kitchens for the college's hospitality management and culinary arts classes.

College officials plan to request county funding for that expansion in the next budget cycle.

Also in the near future, the college would like to build an access road from the property to Landing Road, which would reduce the need for students, staff and visitors to use the mile-long, one-lane Belmont Woods Road that is the property's only access.

An easement exists that would allow a road to be built through Patapsco Valley State Park, which surrounds Belmont.

Local residents have expressed concerns that building such a road would disrupt the natural environment and enable the college to sell part of the land for the development of houses. Similar concerns have been expressed about adding public water and sewer lines, an issue the college is considering.

Other plans for Belmont focus on ways to increase its capacity for overnight guests and bring in more revenue. Now, the center is losing money, said Anne Johnson, Belmont's general manager.

The master plan includes a new 50-room inn. If it were built, Duncan said, five out of 15 guest rooms in the manor house would be converted to other uses and a nonadjacent piece of property and a building, called the Dobbin House, which has five guest rooms, would be sold.

The plan includes a health and wellness center and, further into the future, a building to house landscape architecture, horticulture and other "green technology" programs and a conservatory for concerts and other large events.

A citizens group called Save Belmont that was formed last year plans to weigh in on the plan at tomorrow's meeting.

"Our key focus has and continues to be [that] Belmont was given as a gift to the nation and there are easements on it," said Burnet Chalmers, a neighbor of the property and a Save Belmont member.

He said the group wants the college to build only that which is necessary to keep the center financially viable, as required by the easements.

Roger Caplan, a member of the HCC board of trustees, said many aspects of the Belmont plan resulted from meetings with Belmont's neighbors. At the same time, he said, "We're Howard Community College. We have to serve the greater community."

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