College's 10-year expansion shapes up

New facilities aim to boost McDaniel students' comfort

March 05, 2006|By GINA DAVIS | GINA DAVIS,SUN REPORTER

As one approaches McDaniel College, the fruits of the school's first steps in a multimillion-dollar, 10-year master plan are readily apparent.

A sprawling limestone and wrought-iron gateway greets visitors to the Westminster campus. School officials said they wanted to convey a sense of arrival, of something grand. So they had builders move the school's 70-year-old Ward Arch from near the center of campus to the southernmost Main Street entrance and add a 28-foot-long matching limestone wall with the words "McDaniel College" and "Founded in 1867," the year the school opened as Western Maryland College, etched into its side.

One of the first projects to be completed, the entrance is part practical and part symbolic. School officials wanted to centralize access to the campus, which had about nine entrances. The master plan calls for reducing that number to four.

The gateway also was a gesture to tell the campus community and Westminster residents that the school was charting a future for the 160-acre campus.

The master plan - hammered out in early 2003 - is estimated to cost about $100 million when completed, according to school officials.

"Without planning, you sometimes end up with misdirected resources," said Joan Develin Coley, McDaniel president since 2000. "We wanted to marshal our resources toward a specific goal so that after it's finished, it's more than good, it's smashing."

Several completed projects, such as a 46,000-square-foot academic building that opened in fall, offer a promise of things to come, school officials say.

"What we're talking about predominantly are student-related projects" in the coming years, Coley said. "It's all about the students. ... We're demonstrating that with our master plan."

Projects that school officials hope to finish in the next two years include a fitness center and expanded gymnasium facilities, additional apartment-style student housing and a dormitory that could house about 170 undergraduates.

This phase of the master plan puts an "emphasis more on student life outside the classroom," said Ethan A. Seidel, vice president for administration and finance.

He estimates that these projects could cost $20 million to $25 million.

Last week, the school got a boost with the donation of $2 million from an alumnus to help build a two-story fitness center onto Gill Center.

The $4 million fitness center project - expected to be finished in the spring of next year - marks the first phase of the expansion and renovation of the school's recreation facilities. It will include areas for individual workouts, team weight training, exercise classes such as Pilates, a media center and a cafe.

"We want to turn the overall complex into another student destination," Seidel said. It'll be "another place for students to hang out. It will also be in close proximity to North Village."

North Village - where school officials have spent about $6.5 million in the past three years to build six apartment buildings housing 120 students - is expected to grow by three buildings in the next two to three years, Seidel said. The new buildings would accommodate about 80 students.

Additional housing is a key component of the master plan, as school officials endeavor to make the campus a more inviting environment.

"Students are very interested in the kinds of amenities they have at college," Coley said. "This will help us fill the needs of students who come here and will be an attractive feature to encourage students to come here."

Enrollment - which stands at 1,600 undergraduates and 1,600 graduate students - is expected to grow. Officials, who estimate that about 80 percent of the school's undergraduates live in campus housing, expect enrollment to reach 1,900 undergraduates by 2008.

Josh Russin, a junior who lives in McDaniel Hall, said additions such as a fitness center and more student housing will foster a greater sense of community on campus.

"It'll encourage students to stay on campus," he said. "Instead of having to go out to Baltimore for things to do."

Since 2003, several key components of the master plan have been finished.

The $9 million, three-story academic building - which houses the departments of education and psychology, graduate and professional studies and student academic support services - opened in fall.

"That started a chain reaction because the buildings vacated became available for alternative uses," Seidel said.

For instance, Seidel's office can be found in the building that used to house graduate and professional studies. And Winslow Hall, the building that used to be home to the psychology department, is being renovated to accommodate the military science and ROTC programs, student health services, campus safety and the phone center.

In addition, the school's tennis courts were relocated, freeing up space to build a parking lot that accommodates about 90 vehicles. Another parking lot, near the administrative buildings, was added and has about 100 spaces.

Russin said plans to renovate older dorms should also remain a priority, which school officials agree is high on their list. With the expansion of North Village and the additional dorm, Seidel said, he will be able to free up the older dorms for renovation work.

"We'd like to go back into some of the older residence halls and reduce the number of bedrooms, increase the number of bathrooms and increase the amount of common space," said Seidel. The bottom line, he said, is improving campus life - academically and socially - for students.

"It's an ambitious course for the near future," he said.

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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