Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. unveiled yesterday a capital budget heavy on projects for Maryland's public colleges and universities, making what he said are critical investments in the state's future at a time of surging enrollments and increased selectivity.
Standing on the quadrangle at Towson University, the governor handed out one oversized check after another to university presidents from across the state. The two largest projects are at Towson and Salisbury universities, the institutions designated to handle much of the projected enrollment growth for the University System of Maryland.
The simultaneous increases in student population and competitiveness for admissions at Maryland universities are key to attracting business and jobs to the state, Ehrlich said.
"What this all does, obviously, is enhance our reputation for excellence," said Ehrlich, whose plan is subject to legislative approval.
The largest chunk of the $1.5 billion capital budget, $615 million, is designated for environmental projects, including cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. Most of the money would come from dedicated Program Open Space funds and the so-called "flush tax" passed by lawmakers two years ago.
The projects slated for funding from new bond sales this year are mostly designed to improve education, either through construction and renovation of local schools or building on college campuses.
Before Ehrlich took office, schools such as Towson and Salisbury often took second billing to the University of Maryland, College Park, in the contest for state funds, university system officials said. But this year, those schools each received more than 10 times as much in capital funding as the state's flagship campus. Salisbury will get a $49.6 million teacher education and technology center, and Towson is slated to receive $43.9 million for a liberal arts building and $1.3 million in campuswide safety improvements.
"The bottom line here is bricks and mortar for a purpose, bricks and mortar to accommodate the needs of a growing system," Ehrlich said. "The bottom line is growth."
With six applicants for every slot in its freshman class, the only things Salisbury University needs to grow are more classrooms and more professors, President Janet Dudley-Eshbach said. Ehrlich provided a big boost in the operating budget to help hire more professors and yesterday allocated money for Salisbury's second new classroom building in 15 years.
"There is a demand for public higher education, but the facilities have not always gone to the institutions where there is that demand," Dudley-Eshbach said.
The teacher education and technology center will help the school turn out graduates trained to fill crucial holes in the state work force, she said.
Towson University President Robert L. Caret said he expects his campus, which enrolls about 18,000, to grow to about 25,000 students within a decade. He said the new liberal arts complex - designed to mimic the university's brick-and-slate buildings along York Road - will consolidate departments that have long been scattered around campus and free up space for other departments to expand elsewhere.
The building is part of a roughly $750 million plan to reinvent the campus, both physically and in its stature, Caret said. He said he envisions Towson as a nationally known partner to the College Park campus.
"I see it as being like Michigan State is to Michigan, Arizona State is to Arizona, Florida State is to Florida," he said.
Dudley-Eshbach said the governor's decision to invest in expansion at Salisbury and Towson is a recognition of economics. Both schools offer an excellent education, are in demand from applicants and offer the state excellent value, she said. The state spends thousands less per pupil at those schools than it does at College Park.
"In terms of the cost to the state for each student we educate, Salisbury and Towson are the best deals going," she said.
Higher Education Projects
Higher education construction projects in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s capital budget for fiscal 2007:
College of Liberal Arts complex, $43.9 million
University of Maryland, Baltimore County:
Performing Arts and Humanities complex, $4.9 million
Coppin State University:
utilities/security systems improvements, $10.4 million; physical education complex, $2.3 million
Morgan State University:
utilities upgrade, $7 million; Center for the Built Environment and Infrastructure Studies, $2.3 million
University of Maryland, Baltimore:
new dental school, $7 million
College of Notre Dame/Loyola College:
renovate and expand library, $2.7 million
Johns Hopkins University:
new School of Nursing facility, $2.7 million
College of Southern Maryland, La Plata:
science and technology building expansion, $2 million
University of Maryland, University College:
academic technology support center, $15 million
University of Maryland, College Park:
new biological sciences research building, $2.3 million; Tawes Building conversion $1.5 million
St. Mary's College of Maryland:
new student services building, $8.6 million; new academic building, $1 million
new teacher education and technology center, $49.6 million; new Perdue School of Business, $1.7 million