Opening of student services building completes construction of first quad

HCC building welcoming to students, staff

March 28, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

Offering a range of items from turkey sandwiches to advice on future careers, the new student services building at Howard Community College started living up to its promise as a "one-stop shop" this week.

As officials cut the ribbon on the $24.6 million building -- funded equally by state and county money -- it was buzzing with students getting meals or coffee in the spacious Cafe on the Quad, shopping in the bookstore and asking questions at the new offices for admissions, registration, financial aid, finance and academic support.

"I think it's gorgeous," said Elizabeth Csanady, a 20-year-old student from Clarksville, after walking up the staircase in the three-story atrium with wide eyes. "It opens up so brightly with all the windows."

Light, space and a welcoming feel were important aspects in designing the 103,950- square-foot building, which will serve as an entry point to the college for students and visitors, said Patrick L. Huddie, chairman of the college's board of trustees.

"What it represents for the school is how students are treated," Huddie said. "It is building a total environment for the students, so from the first day they feel welcomed and sustained and supported."

The college is celebrating its new building through Friday with DragonFest, a series of contests, seminars and social events designed to familiarize students with the building.

The week started with a ceremony Monday morning that included speeches by county and state officials, cake and fireworks. At that event, college President Mary Ellen Duncan, who will retire in June, announced that the building will be named the Rouse Company Foundation Student Services Hall in honor of a $1.5 million donation the charitable organization made to the college.

"We are extremely pleased and excited at this marvelous gift," Duncan said, noting it is the largest cash gift the college has received.

Tomorrow, alumni and their friends and family can join the celebration from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at a free "grand opening social" on the new building's fourth floor, which has a space overlooking the quad designed for larger events.

The people who appeared to be celebrating the most this week were the employees of the student services areas, who worked for years in cramped spaces, closets turned into offices, and areas with too little room for visitors and materials.

"We are so happy over here," said Katherine Allen, director of financial aid services. "We can breathe. We can move. ... I think it has changed everyone's attitude."

She said the new financial aid area allows her staff to help more students at a time and avoids having them line up in the hallway the way they used to.

In the previous administrative building, "everything was kind of separate," said Csanady, who was in the new building Monday with her class on career decision-making. "It made it a lot more difficult to figure out where things were and what to do."

She said amenities such as the cafe and the bookstore are likely to make students spend some more time on campus.

"It's a nice cafeteria," she said. "I've never eaten here, and it makes me want to."

The completion of the Student Services Building finishes HCC's first quadrangle, a project Huddie said was desired but "impossible to picture" 10 years ago.

The campus began with one building in 1970 and added several interconnected structures during that decade. It went about 10 years without any additional space before construction of the Children's Learning Center in 2000.

During Duncan's tenure, the school added the English, Languages and Business Building in 2003 and opened the Peter and Elizabeth Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts in August.

At Monday's dedication, County Executive Ken Ulman praised Duncan as a "powerful force," and a leader with a vision who made HCC's growth possible.

"I am staggered to walk on this campus and see what it has become," he said. "It has truly become a campus."

But even with the three latest buildings, HCC remains at the bottom of community colleges in terms of space per student, and well below state recommendations.

HCC enrolls more than 7,100 students in for-credit programs and has 14,000 people taking noncredit classes.

Duncan said it is up to the incoming president and current executive vice president, Kate Hetherington, to start the next quad.

The next priority is an allied health building to meet significant student demand for nursing, emergency medical technician, radiology and other programs.

Huddie said the county has been supportive of funding such a structure, but state support for community college capital projects is spread thin.

Current health programs take advantage of "every hour and week of the year," Huddie said. "We're out of space. We could do so much more."

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