College soon will have needed breathing room

At HCC, three construction projects will help relieve `a serious shortage of space'

College soon will have breathing room it needs

February 08, 2006|By SANDY ALEXANDER | SANDY ALEXANDER,SUN REPORTER

In the next year, the steel beams, towering cranes and big piles of dirt that have been a common sight during Howard Community College's building boom will give way to three new structures.

A new visual and performing arts building is scheduled to be completed in June. The first of several planned parking garages is on track to open in August. And a new student services building should be ready for business in January 2007.

The new buildings will offer students plenty of amenities and much-needed breathing room for departments that have been squeezed by steadily growing enrollment.

"HCC has a serious shortage of space," said Katherine Allen, director of financial aid services. "I don't even have enough space for all my employees. ... We are tripping over boxes, and we don't keep as much [printed material] on hand as we'd like."

Concerns about space are common in other administrative areas as well. In those areas, offices have been fashioned out of closets and hallways, meeting space is scarce and waiting areas are crowded during peak times.

But the most common complaint among students is the severe shortage of parking. The student services building and the construction site of the new parking garage are displacing parking lots, making spaces more scarce than ever during the spring semester.

The school is offering free shuttle service from The Mall in Columbia parking lot to the campus.

In its fiscal 2007 capital budget, HCC reports that its enrollment grew almost 17 percent between fall 2000 and fall 2004, from 20,758 students in credit and noncredit courses to 24,267.

By fiscal 2009, the college expects to have 27,171 students.

The college spent almost a decade with no new construction, until a children's learning center was built in 2000. The school completed the 105,000-square-foot Instructional Lab Building in 2003.

But the college remains far behind state recommendations for space based on enrollment.

According to the Maryland Higher Education Commission, the school had 52.2 percent of the space it needed -- the lowest percentage in the state -- in fiscal 2004.

Across the state, community colleges are deficient by 1.7 million square feet, said Barbara Ash, research director for the Maryland Association of Community Colleges. Growing enrollment and a need for specialized laboratory and training spaces are contributing to the crunch.

"Even though we are looking at a significant capital improvement plan [by the state], larger than anything we've seen before ... we are still forecasting a 1.4 million square foot deficit 10 years out," she said.

HCC's new student services building will include areas for admissions, registration, financial aid, finance and academic support departments. Each will have lobby areas, more computers, more stations where staff members can assist students and more offices for staff members.

"We are excited because our office is in three different buildings and four locations," said Dorothy Plantz, associate director of advising. Having the department and its information in one place, comfortable work spaces and areas for private conversations will be a big help, she said. "It's going to improve our customer service, there's no doubt about it."

Judi Bulliner, director of records and registration, said, "We will have room in our offices to actually have chairs and a table, which is important."

In addition, the academic support office will have soundproof walls -- which it does not now -- classroom space to hold seminars and enough offices to have on-campus interviews. The testing center will have more space and a separate area for computer test takers and their clicking keyboards. The tutoring center, where users regularly spill into the library, will be able to seat more students, put groups in separate rooms and keep the noise down.

The student services building will feature a three-story atrium with lots of windows and a welcome center, a large dining hall and a larger bookstore with room for more merchandise and places for students to sit.

"We wanted to make this our one-stop shop for students," said Kathleen Hetherington, executive vice president for student services. The administration "wanted an environment that was really a welcoming and supportive environment for students," she said. "It will be a very busy, vibrant space."

Allen said, "Students are going to see a big difference. They are not going to have to travel all over the place" to take care of their needs.

And, she said, "everyone is going to be able to see outside. ... I think overall its going to help the morale of the staff."

The Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts, for which ground was broken in summer 2004, is eagerly awaited by staff and students who practice music in trailers, dance in converted kitchens and use substandard art studios.

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