Howard Community College has big plans for the next decade, plans that envision doubling the size of its Columbia campus and expanding operations at the newly acquired historic Belmont property that now serves as a conference center.
Altogether, it's a major expansion for the college, which has embarked on an $87 million building program in the past four years. Administrators insist they're struggling to keep pace with enrollment even as they continue to recover from a 12-year hiatus on new construction that began in the late 1980s.
"We got behind," President Mary Ellen Duncan said. "Once you get behind, it's very hard to catch up."
Since 2000, fall enrollment for credit students has grown an average of 4 percent a year. Enrollment is expected to rise from about 6,800 today to almost 8,500 by 2014.
Even with the proposed new building, HCC by 2015 would still rank at the bottom of Maryland's community colleges in the amount of space for academic programs, college officials said.
The new draft plan for the Columbia campus, publicly unveiled last week, shows three additional academic buildings, more parking garages, expanded athletic facilities and, for the first time, student housing. In addition, the college is charting a new future for the Belmont estate in Elkridge.
The college's educational foundation purchased Belmont and its surrounding 83 acres for $5.2 million last year from the American Chemical Society, which operated the 18th-century property as a private retreat and conference center. HCC wants to sell 13 acres with a modern guesthouse about a half-mile from the manor house. It also wants to upgrade the conference center and use it as the home for its new hospitality management and culinary arts programs. The school envisions a new access road, a health and wellness center for guests, and 40 new guest rooms in clustered, low-rise units near the manor house's formal gardens.
Mindful that neighbors are leery of the college's plans for the estate, Roger N. Caplan, a member of HCC's board of trustees, said last week: "This is a very conservative, modest plan. . . . There's no grandiose piece on this. We want to make it clear we're very responsible neighbors."
As part of its construction program, HCC opened a classroom building in 2003 and is building another. It also has added athletic fields and is beginning construction this fall on a student services building and a 500-space parking garage. The college has grouped its new buildings around a landscaped quad that has become a popular meeting ground for students and staff members.
The school's planning consultant, Design Collective Inc. of Baltimore, proposes that a second quad, South Quad, be developed on college land bounded by Hickory Ridge Road. A new building for the nursing program and related health fields -- as well as buildings for business, computer science and mathematics -- would be constructed on parking lots. Eventually, HCC might replace its aging athletic and fitness center, now situated near the center of the proposed South Quad. The two quads would be linked by a park threaded with walking paths. The campus would have three new parking garages at its edges.
At the Columbia campus's northern end, near Little Patuxent Parkway, planners also have set aside space for 300 to 400 units of student housing, which might be built and open in three years.
College officials said they're responding to a demand for housing that they've heard for years from students who attend HCC soon after high school.
"They would like to have a traditional experience they see other kids having on other campuses," said Kathleen Hetherington, executive vice president for student services.
The housing would be built by a private developer but paid for by rents, HCC officials said. The on-campus housing would help students stay in school and complete their studies, they said.
"For us, it has an academic purpose," Duncan said. "There's no other reason for us to consider this."
HCC receives its funding from the county, Maryland and tuition. College officials haven't said how much the expansion might cost, but they expect it will be daunting. In recent years, state lawmakers have been more receptive to funding community colleges.
"We still work very, very hard to get those dollars," Duncan said. "Many colleges give up in the process. There's so many roadblocks. It's so difficult to do."
HCC officials have said that they might ask County Executive James N. Robey (D) to include money in next year's budget to renovate Belmont's stone barn and carriage house to provide more meeting and office space and new kitchen facilities for the college's culinary arts program.
College officials were reminded of the difficulty of their task when they unveiled their draft plan for Belmont to neighbors this week. An audience of about 75 people reacted with pointed skepticism and asked Design Collective planner Matthew A. D'Amico about the effect of a new access road, the purpose of a wellness center, and the possibility that more academic programs would locate at Belmont and that it would become "Howard Community College East."
HCC officials sat silently in the back of the conference room at Belmont while D'Amico told the audience that the consultants tried to incorporate suggestions residents had made at a spring community meeting.
In May, "it sounded as though a lot of this [plan] seemed to be okay," he said. "Now we're hearing totally the opposite."
College officials said they'll meet again with residents in the fall.