Schools revamp ahead of BRAC

Two area community colleges modernize cramped facilities

October 15, 2007|By Josh Dombroskie | Josh Dombroskie,SUN REPORTER

A task as routine as scheduling lab time for science classes is not so simple as it used to be at Harford Community College.

Space is cramped at Aberdeen Hall, a 43-year-old building where courses for the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are taught at the Bel Air school. Faculty members often must scramble to keep up with the busy schedule of students coming through the laboratories.

"Sometimes one lab is scheduled one right after the other, so you can't prepare as well," said Jim D'Amario, a professor of physics, astronomy and physical science.

And that was before BRAC.

As part of an effort to beef up the math and science curriculum to meet the demands of the influx coming to Aberdeen Proving Ground because of the base realignment and closure process, the college is undertaking a renovation that will double the size of Aberdeen Hall and modernize the laboratories and classrooms.

The changes come in anticipation of about 5,100 high-tech jobs relocating from Fort Monmouth, N.J. About one-third of the workers coming to APG are scientists and engineers who build radar, battlefield radios and equipment to jam roadside bombs.

"There's going to be more need in our area for science, math and technology with the BRAC movement," said Nancy Dysard, a spokeswoman for the college. "It will be creating more jobs in those fields."

Another BRAC-affected jurisdiction, Anne Arundel County, also is taking steps to prepare its community college for the changes that the military influx will bring.

About 4,300 workers from the Army's Defense Information Systems Agency are moving from Northern Virginia to Fort Meade. DISA serves as the communications link between defense agencies and military personnel in combat zones and elsewhere. Its focus on defense-information technology is expected to complement operations at the National Security Agency, also headquartered at Fort Meade.

In preparation, Anne Arundel Community College has been renovating classrooms and revamping curriculum in several programs.

"Everything associated with BRAC will affect us, and fairly dramatically," said Linda Schulte, AACC's director of public relations and marketing.

The basement of the college's building at Arundel Mills mall recently was transformed into classrooms to expand capacity, and the biggest classroom building on AACC's main campus in Arnold was closed for renovation in January.

Anne Arundel also modernized language buildings and will feature classes in Arabic, Urdu, Korean and Chinese.

"Obviously with BRAC we anticipate the needs for these languages," Schulte said.

In Harford County, work on the 20,000-square-foot expansion began last month and will be completed in two phases. The first part will be the three-story addition that is scheduled to be finished next summer. Students will have classes in the new section until renovation of the original structure is completed in the fall of 2009.

Plans call for additional lab space in biotechnology, advanced chemistry and optical physics, as well as a virtual science computer lab.

"Before we even knew about BRAC happening, there were plans for the renovations," Dysard said. "BRAC just reinforced the need."

During a recent meeting the county government held to update residents on BRAC, the college's president, James LaCalle, said the Aberdeen Hall project will make the community college "well equipped to deal with science needs in the work force."

More than 20,000 students are enrolled in credit or noncredit courses at HCC, and more than 1,270 students are enrolled in the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Graduates from the college earn an associate's degree, and most go on to continue their studies at four-year colleges, Dysard said.

Funding for the $14 million project is being shared equally by the state and county.

County spokesman Bob Thomas said the administration and the county executive support the renovation and believe it will help the college with the BRAC movement, as well as the long term.

"The college is becoming much more popular, and it has made significant capital improvements over the past decade, and this is another step forward for this school," Thomas said.

Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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