Towson University is set for a major expansion into Harford County, planning a new classroom building and envisioning student residences in Bel Air, officials said yesterday.
To serve a growing student population in northeast Maryland, Towson would build its first satellite campus adjacent to Harford Community College, on land owned by the college. Students would be able to get bachelor's degrees in programs including education, business, criminal justice, science and technology.
Within a decade, the university expects up to 6,000 students will be studying at the Bel Air location, off Thomas Run Road.
"At some point in the future, students will be able to get their degree from Towson University without ever having to come to Towson, except for the commencement exercises," said James P. Sheehan, the university's vice president for administration and finance.
Officials hope to break ground on a 30,000-square-foot classroom building by the end of this year, with occupancy by fall 2011. Towson expects to sublet space to other universities that want to offer degree programs in Harford. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, for instance, has expressed interest in offering an engineering program, which Towson does not have.
The plan is to be finalized in a memorandum of understanding set to be signed March 5 by Towson and Harford Community College officials. It would allow Towson University, which has 21,000 students and is bumping up against wary neighbors in Rodgers Forge, to grow beyond what the main campus on York Road can accommodate.
About 2,000 Towson students come from Harford County, said Towson's president, Robert L. Caret. He doesn't expect them all to switch to the Bel Air site, but some who commute would probably like to reduce their drive. He also said the military base realignment that is bringing thousands of jobs to Harford makes the move a smart one.
"There's no four-year institution up there," Caret said. "And with BRAC, you have an added catalyst. There's been a growing need just because of population growth. BRAC expands that dramatically."
The community college sends more students to Towson than to any other university. With this plan, students will be able to spend their first two years at HCC, then finish their bachelor's degree at the satellite campus.
The community college has set aside about 5 acres for several Towson buildings. Officials expect a developer to build the first and then lease it for 10 years to Towson. After 20 years, ownership would transfer to HCC. More space is available if it's needed. The community college owns about 150 acres just west of its 210-acre campus.
"I think it's going to be a success," said HCC President James F. LaCalle, adding that he is often asked when his school will become a four-year institution. But he said he has no desire for that.
Towson students would be able to take advantage of HCC's bookstore, cafeteria and support services, including advising. HCC has considered building dorms, which could be shared with Towson.
The plan has to be approved by Harford County. Spokesman Robert B. Thomas called it an "excellent opportunity."
State approval is not needed, but the University System of Maryland is supportive, said Chancellor William E. Kirwan.
"We see this as a way for the system, through Towson, to reach out and improve educational opportunities in an area that's going to be in desperate need of a highly skilled work force," Kirwan said.
Towson University is hemmed in, and neighbors are becoming more active in protesting growth. Plans for an expansion of the university's arena raised hackles last month, and Towson moved the arena farther from homes to placate neighbors.
But growth is expected. Caret said Towson will be able to expand from 21,000 students on its main campus to 25,000 by 2013. Neighbors who attended the state Board of Regents meeting at the university yesterday were not happy to hear that.
"The university's growth cannot come at the expense of the surrounding neighborhoods," said Edward Kilcullen, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations.
But Bob Latshaw of the Greater Baltimore Economic Forum, also speaking at the meeting, said the area needs the university for the jobs and business it provides. "Thank God for Towson University," he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.