Gov. Parris N. Glendening proposed spending a record $1.2 billion yesterday on new classrooms, laboratories and other facilities at Maryland colleges and universities over the next five years, nearly twice as much as originally planned.
The construction splurge would come courtesy of a booming economy, which is expected to pump a $925 million surplus into the state's treasury this year. The governor said he hopes to "undo the damage" that Maryland's public institutions suffered during the recession-driven budget cuts of the early 1990s.
"I can't think of a better way to go into a new century," said Glendening (D). Last year's capital budget slated just $744 million for campus projects over five years.
The governor's plan would push forward by a few years dozens of long-scheduled projects, including major renovations of laboratories and a theater building at the University of Maryland at College Park, and construction of a new building for the state's only dental school, at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.
And it puts on the calendar several significant projects that until this year were distant hopes on the state's higher education wish list. Among them: two new science buildings at College Park, a new academic center at St. Mary's College and a $16 million public policy center for the University of Maryland at Baltimore County.
State university officials, who have long complained that a lack of funding has hindered Maryland colleges from joining the ranks of the nation's more prestigious public institutions, expressed delight with the proposal.
"I don't think it could be better," said Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University System of Maryland.
Though many interest groups have pleaded for a piece of the state's latest windfall, the governor is likely to direct most of the new spending to one-time capital projects such as the ones announced yesterday.
State officials are reluctant to expand other programs for fear they would have to make cuts when the economy sours.
Nonetheless, Glendening yesterday also promised to request a $130 million, or 12 percent, increase in day-to-day operating funds for state colleges when he submits his budget next month.
Under his capital budget proposal, which must be approved by the state legislature, the state would spend $354 million on campus construction projects in the 2001 fiscal year, nearly triple this year's expenditures.
Yet the money likely won't come without strings: Though he made no mention of it yesterday, Glendening has lately warned that state institutions should be held to strict and higher standards.
Last month, he said future funding increases may depend on how well each campus carries out its particular mission for educating students.
Glendening put particular emphasis on seven high-tech construction projects which, though announced last year, would be built sooner with the new funds. They include a $11.2 million science building at Bowie State University and an information technology and engineering building at UMBC. Construction on both could begin as soon as next year, according to the proposed budget.
"High-tech skills and knowledge will be essential in the new economy," he said.
C.D. Mote Jr., president of the University of Maryland at College Park, cheered the proposed budget, noting that the $102 million earmarked for projects at the state's flagship university next year is greater than the amount spent on capital projects throughout the entire university system two years ago.
The wish list for College Park focuses less on new buildings than on renovations of old ones, which Mote said are crucial.
"These are facilities that are terrible," he said. "We can't recruit distinguished faculty and graduate students because our facilities aren't good enough--it's more important than salaries."
The capital budget increase was also applauded by one of the key lawmakers who will decide whether to approve it.
"There's nothing better you can do with unexpected money," said state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore), chairman of the budget and taxation committee.
HIGHER EDUCATION PROJECTS
Highlights of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposed $1.23 billion, five-year capital budget plan for Maryland colleges and universities:
Projects expedited on the state construction schedule:
University of Maryland at College Park
* Renovation of chemical and nuclear engineering building
Budget: $3.5 million
* Renovation of H.J. Patterson labs
Budget: $2.2 million
* Renovation of Tawes Building
Budget: $17.8 million
University of Maryland at Baltimore
* Replacement of Hayden-Harris Hall (Dental school)
Budget: $94 million
Bowie State University
* Renovation of Martin Luther King Arts Center
Budget: $14.3 million
Projects added to the schedule:
University of Maryland at College Park
* Construction of behavioral and social science building
Budget: $22.6 million
* Construction of biological sciences building
Budget: not available
Years: start in 2004
University of Maryland at Baltimore County
* Construction of public policy institute
Budget: $16.2 million
St. Mary's College
* New academic building
Budget: $19.6 million
* Restoration of historic buildings
Budget: $33.3 million
University System of Maryland
* Construction of classrooms at Shady Grove satellite campus
Budget: $24 million
Source: Maryland Governor's Office.