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Howard University announces historic $785 million investment in new buildings, renovations

The investment signals an era of financial security for a university with a history of budget woes

Howard University will spend $785 million on new construction and building renovations, the largest real estate investment in the school's history. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)
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Howard University will spend $785 million on new construction and building renovations, the largest real estate investment in the school’s history, officials announced Wednesday.

The investment signals an era of financial security for a university with a history of budget woes. Howard in February announced that its credit rating had improved, thanks to a year of historic philanthropy and enrollment growth.

The school will use most of those dollars — $670 million — to construct academic buildings for the first time in nearly four decades, officials said. The plans include a new health sciences complex to house the medical school and other programs, a center for arts and communications, and a building dedicated to science, technology, engineering and math fields.

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The university also will renovate the Myrtilla Miner Building on the main campus — formerly a teachers college and one of the first high schools for Black girls — to house its School of Education and the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science public charter school.

“This is a watershed moment in the history of our institution,” Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick said in a statement. “Because of the tremendously enhanced financial posture we have worked so hard to achieve, the state of the university has never been stronger.”

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The new construction projects are scheduled to begin this year and be completed by 2026, officials said.

The announcement is part of Howard’s campus master plan, a strategy that outlines the university’s goals to expand and improve its infrastructure. The plan includes a building for student activities, an expansion of Howard’s athletics arena and about 1,500 more housing units for students.

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The development also comes mere months after a 34-day student-led protest over issues including on-campus housing. Students occupied a campus building, sleeping on inflatable mattresses and pitching tents. They complained of mold, rodents and floods in residence halls.

Frederick, more than three weeks into the high-profile protest, acknowledged that the school needed to improve the way it handles housing concerns by doing more preventive maintenance, responding faster to complaints and communicating more often with students about facilities issues.

The demonstration, and occupation of a campus building, ended with a deal between the university and protesters.

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Howard in recent years has made various improvements to its campus, including a renovation of the undergraduate library, construction of the Interdisciplinary Research Building and upgrades to 80 percent of its residence halls, officials said.

Now $300 million in taxable bonds will help finance the first phase of new construction, campus leaders said, which includes design and predevelopment costs. The university’s recently improved financial state means it can borrow money for the infrastructure upgrades.

Howard experienced a 28 percent increase in enrollment over two years, from 9,399 in fall 2019 to 12,065 students this past fall, which has contributed to financial stability, officials said. The school also reported $170 million in donations and pledges in the 2021 fiscal year — including a $40 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in July 2020. More recent gifts to Howard include a $5.4 million donation from Netflix to provide scholarships to fine arts students and a $16.8 million grant from the PNC Foundation for a new entrepreneurship center.

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