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Catonsville

UMBC announces major construction projects

University of Maryland, Baltimore County, officials announced that a number of construction projects will soon be under way on campus, including a larger arena and a more welcoming entrance.

The announcement came during the university's annual meeting with leaders from Catonsville, Arbutus and surrounding communities on Monday.

In addition to a new campus entranceway and a proposed events center, the conservation of 11 acres of land was announced.

A new performing arts center is in the process of being built.

"I think it's pretty amazing what is happening at UMBC," said 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk last week. "Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested at the campus due to [UMBC president Freeman Hrabowski's] influence.

Quirk, whose district includes the area, noted that the improvements on the campus off Wilkens Avenue have a ripple effect throughout the surrounding communities.

"I think over the last 20 years, what we have seen is more and more faculty, staff at the [BWTech at UMBC Research and Technology Park] and employees have settled into Catonsville, Arbutus and the surrounding area," Quirk said.

A new events and convocation center that will host community events and be the new home for the Retrievers' sports teams is expected to open sometime in the 2017-2018 school year, Rexing said.

The $85-million facility will have 5,000 permanent seats, 1,000 more than the current Retriever Activities Center (RAC). It will be a multi-use space which will allow for greater flexibility than currently available.

"It will be able to host our basketball and volleyball games that many of our neighborhood folks like to enjoy," Rexing said. "But it will play host to other events that will be extended to the community."

Those events include speakers' series, convocations, graduation ceremonies and arts events, Rexing said.

The RAC, which opened in 1973 as the UMBC Fieldhouse, served as the site of numerous high school basketball conference and state championship tournaments, among other activities.

"I am so excited about the new events center being built here, " said Del. James E. Malone Jr., who represents the area, "Number one, because the students here will be able to graduate on their own campus and number two because of what it will do for the community."

Construction of a new campus entranceway that will address traffic circulation and safety improvements will begin in June and is expected to continue through summer 2015, said Joe Rexing, an architect and director in planning and construction services at UMBC.

"There are traffic backups and slow-moving traffic that present some hazards, which we've been watching," Rexing said last week. "Now we have the opportunity to make it safer and improve flow to campus."

The entrance off South Rolling Road is the Interstate-195 exit to the campus and is expected to be open in fall 2015, Rexing said.

"It will make you feel like you are arriving at, rather than bypassing, UMBC," Rexing said.

A performing arts center is on its way to completion, with the first phase completed in fall 2012. Phase two of the construction is expected to be completed this summer. By fall it will host arts, dance and humanities programs that will be open to the public, Rexing said.

The 168,000 square foot facility will have a concert hall that will accommodate 175 people, a theater hall that can hold 275 people, a 100-person dance venue and a black box theater to accomodate between 100 and 150.

The school has also designated 11 acres of forest as a conservation area through Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which protects it from development and requires that trees remain on the land.

Rexing said the conservation area, which is located on the edge of the campus near Wilkens Avenue and Interstate 695, between Poplar Avenue and Center Road on the outer loop of Hilltop Road, is part of a university plan to make the campus more sustainable.

"It provides us with an opportunity to protect, observe and conserve our natural environment," Rexing said.

Rexing said the designation will protect Herbert Run, a stream that flows past the campus through Arbutus and is a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

Such forests are necessary to protect the habitat around the stream, Rexing said.

"It's very much a part of a more comprehensive statewide push to improve Chespeake Bay water quality, " Rexing said.

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