Northeast corner of Commons II

A rendering shows the northeast corner of the planned Commons II, a five-story building on the MICA campus with 62 apartments that could accommodate about 240 students. (Rendering courtesy of Hord Coplan Macht / July 9, 2012)

Twenty years after opening its first large residence for students, the Maryland Institute College of Art plans to build a $16.5 million addition that will increase the number of undergraduates living on campus and help revitalize Baltimore's North Avenue corridor and northern Bolton Hill.

College officials intend to break ground this fall on Commons II, a five-story building with 62 apartments that can accommodate about 240 students. When it opens in the fall of 2013, MICA will have on-campus housing for more than 1,000 students, up from practically none in 1991 and enough for more than half of its undergraduates.

The building, which will replace a parking lot along North Avenue west of Mount Royal Avenue, will be an addition to The Commons, which opened on McMechen Street in 1992 with 99 apartments housing 350 freshmen. Plans by Hord Coplan Macht call for Commons II to include a performance space, lecture hall and artist studios, as well as apartments.

The project represents a key part of MICA's strategy under longtime president Fred Lazarus IV to extend northward and rejuvenate the North Avenue corridor by connecting Bolton Hill with the 100-square-block Station North Arts and Entertainment District to the east.

Lazarus and MICA have also been instrumental in the state-designated arts district, where the college this fall will complete a $20 million renovation of Studio Center, formerly the Jos. A. Bank clothing factory, for use by graduate students.

Lazarus said the freshmen and transfer students who will live at Commons II will help bring life to the nearby arts district, where MICA is already active.

"In our view, community engagement is at the core of everything we do, from the way we grow our physical presence to our focus on training students and alumni to use art and design to elevate society," he said.

The college is also planning a $2 million renovation of The Commons, to be completed by late 2013. Architect Ayers Saint Gross will be adding a laundry center, cafe lounge, mailboxes and possibly an exhibition space, as well as connections to Commons II.

College officials say that having more on-campus housing will help MICA compete with arts institutions that don't provide it, while improving the surrounding area.

"More and more, MICA students are finding that living on campus enriches their ... learning experience," said J. Davidson 'Dusty' Porter, vice president of student affairs and dean of students.

The college, founded in 1826, has had a campus in midtown Baltimore since the early 1900s. Last fall, it enrolled 520 freshmen and 85 transfer students, a 16 percent increase over the year before and the largest freshman class ever, according to public relations director Jessica Weglein. For this fall, MICA anticipates about 1,861 undergraduates and 370 graduate students, she said.

The college has owned the land for Commons II since the 1990s, when it acquired five acres to build The Commons and kept some land in reserve for expansion. The land has been used as a parking lot. Both the addition and the renovation work will be financed by the sale of state authorized bonds, officials say.

Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation approved construction plans in May. During a public meeting, Tom Seiler, head of Bolton Hill's architectural review committee, said the panel supports the design and appreciates MICA's willingness to work with the neighborhood

Hord Coplan Macht's design calls for Commons II to reflect its role as a connector between Bolton Hill and the Station North arts district. On the side facing North Avenue, Commons II will be relatively traditional in appearance, with a brick facade intended to complement Bolton Hill's row houses. On the south side, facing The Commons, it will be more contemporary in design, with an entryway echoing the multi-level opening on the Gateway building nearby.

Ben Stone, executive director of the Station North district, said he believes MICA's projects will help bring more people to visit the area's galleries, restaurants and other businesses.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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