By Amanda Burdette
FREDERICK, Md. – A cozy corner fireplace greets visitors to a lofty multi-purpose room, where conversation and aromas from a snack bar float down the hall. The exposed blue steel of the atrium ceiling contrasts with the earth tones of the floor.
Hood College’s 42,000-square-foot Whitaker Campus Center opened Aug. 28 to “fill a void,” said Sara Waldron, assistant dean of students and the center’s director. “Now residents, commuters and graduate students can come together formally or informally. It will foster a strong community here.”
Hood is one of nearly a dozen Maryland campuses building or improving such centers, at a combined cost exceeding $150 million. Among the others:
* The University of Maryland Eastern Shore plans to open a $23 million student services building in 2000. It will include a 500-seat theater, dining area, six-lane bowling alley, bookstore and career center.
* Baltimore’s Goucher College has undertaken a $3 million student center renovation for a new open atmosphere featuring glass walls, a living room, commuter lounge, game room, cafe and private dining area.
* Salisbury State University’s $22 million College Center East opened this summer with marble floors, a bookstore, post office and conference rooms.
* Loyola College in Baltimore starts expanding its center in November. The $11.5 million project adds a new story of glass and steel and improves the dining area and bookstore.
* Johns Hopkins University has a $14 million student/art center in the works for 2002. Included will be theaters, a cafe, dance and music studios, open gathering places and office space for student groups.
* St. Mary’s College plans to double the size of its student center, to 47,000 square feet, in May. Andristine Robinson, director of student development, said the renovation will cost $10 million.
“We are improving because the students asked for improvement,” she said.
Anthony Samu, vice president of the National Student Services Association in Washington, D.C., identified a national trend to centralize services on campuses.
“In this day and age, [the student center] determines the campus’s environment,” he said.
Where prospective students once looked at Greek life when visiting a school, experts say, they now focus on overall atmosphere. And Maryland campuses are responding to the pressure to compete.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County’s will break ground in 2000 on a new student center, said Charlie Fey, vice president of student affairs. George J. Preisinger, director of campus activities, estimated the facility will cost $20 million.
“I certainly think [the center] is a factor of enrollment,” Preisinger said. “It is one of the major factors of college life. The facility has a bookstore, food service, game room, a Ticket Master and lobby lounges.”
In a campus surrounded by residential areas, it creates a city-like atmosphere, he said.
The current center opened in 1982, and had a strong impact on campus life, Preisinger said. With a central place to gather, the number of student organizations went from 39 in 1982 to 140 currently. And while commuting students formerly ate in their cars, “now there is a place to interact,” he said.
Student centers have an economic impact on their campuses, Preisinger noted. A Chick Filet franchise moved into UMBC’s union, providing a retail market. Sixty students are employed in Preisinger’s office. And there are jobs at the bookstore and on the bus shuttle system that runs from the union.
At the University of Maryland System’s flagship campus in College Park, work begins in July on a 30-month $40 million project to renovate Stamp Union.
The building, erected in 1954, has 17,000 visitors daily in its “labyrinth of hallways,” said James M. Osteen, union director. Renovation will improve traffic flow and reorganize many offices and rooms.
In many instances, students will pay the costs of these projects.
Those enrolled at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore will each pay $400 more next year to support the school’s center, said Ronnie Holden, vice president for administrative affairs.
At College Park, student fees will increase by $20 and ultimately $40 to help pay off bonds sold for Stamp’s renovation.
Fees increased at Salisbury State by $30 in the past year — to $546 per student, of which $140 supports the student center, said Gains Hawkins, spokesman. Fees for next year have not been set.
UMBC’s new facility will be funded through private donations, campus resources and an as-yet undetermined increase in student fees.
Hood College, a private institution, raised $6.1 million through corporate donations and alumni, including a $2 million from the Whitaker Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving health through engineering science. Hopkins’ new center will be funded through corporate gifts, while St. Mary’s College financed its work with the sale of bonds that will be retired via the operating budget. Endowments will fund Goucher’s renovations. And at Loyola, costs will be paid through an overall $40 million fund drive. -30-