A recent decision to close Bowie State University's main academic building for repairs has displaced 85 percent of the classes and angered students and faculty who charge that the situation could have been avoided.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Communications Center was closed Aug. 22 after state contractors, in the final phase of a five-year renovation of the 17-year-old building, found additional damage to its structure.
"They implied it could be dangerous if students were to go back into the building before all the work was completed," said Millree Williams, director of public information for the university. Two of the university's four other academic buildings are under renovation, one of them completely out of use.
The university acquired six trailers to convert into temporary classrooms for the fall semester, but they were not ready for use when classes started Sept. 4. As a result, the university's 4,200 full- and part-time students were assigned to hastily converted rooms in the student union and the gymnasium, which is without air conditioning.
"This all could have been avoided had the university president listened to all the warnings," said Donald Morgan, an associate professor of sociology. "The administration of Bowie University had enough time to make enough adequate contingency plans to accommodate the opening of school . . . . "
But Williams said state contractors assured school officials as recently as August that the building would be ready for the school's opening.
Since the start of classes, computer science courses have been housed in the computer labs, displacing other students who want to work on the computers for out-of-class assignments. Acoustical problems have reduced the frequency of instrumental music and voice classes.
All graduate classes were moved to the Yorktown school, which is vacant.
In the meantime, some instructors, concerned about the heat and crowding, have taken their class outdoors.
Angela Rock, a senior studying broadcast journalism, sat outside with her class last week and tried to ignore the construction.
"It's very difficult trying to hear your instructor," said Rock. She and several other students agreed that a delay in the start of classes would have been preferrable to the current inconvenience."
"Inconvenience is an understatement," said Ritchard Mbayo, a professor of journalism. "I don't have access to my teaching materials, nor a blackboard or computer. I just bring the class outside."
Meanwhile, in the gym, the heat was unbearable. Students sat on bleachers balancing notebooks on their knees while large fans in each corner did little to stir the air.
State engineers slated the three-story King Center for a five-year overhaul in 1985, after water damage was found to have weakened the cables supporting the structure.
Classes were held in the building until June, when contractors began shoring up the structure.
School administrators said contractors have told them the renovation will be completed by Sept. 17.
"There was poor planning on the part of administrators, but safety is a priority and I don't want to rush the contractors and have the building collapse on us," said Julia Goodman, vice president of the Student Government Association.
Student leaders held a rally Friday in an attempt to unify students feeling displaced by the situation.
In August, Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer visited the university during campaigning and pledged to adminstrators to fund the remaining construction.
Schaefer noted the renovations have so far cost the state $2 million -- for a building constructed for $4 million. He questioned whether more state money should be put into the King Center, according to Williams. The university depends on the state for 65 percent of its budget.
Daryl Stone, president of the Student Government Association, attempted to put it all in perspective. "The building is named after Martin Luther King and I just hope the students can think of him . . . and try to make do."
Not everyone wanted to make do. Students entering a makeshift classroom were greeted with a message written neatly on the blackboard. It read: "No office, no phone, no classroom space, don't worry be happy." Class was canceled.