Even with temperatures hovering in the 90s Thursday afternoon, state and local dignitaries crowded under a tent to celebrate the start of construction on Harford Community College's new Towson University in Northeastern Maryland facility.
Construction of the 55,000 square-foot, three-story, classroom building began earlier this year, and workers could be seen installing metal rebar Thursday; large sections of exterior walls for the first story of the building had already been stood up.
The $22 million facility will allow Cecil and Harford County residents to take Towson University courses on Harford Community College's Bel Air campus, instead of having to commute to the main TU campus in Towson.
The building can accommodate up to 1,450 students and faculty, and is scheduled to be open by the fall of 2014.
The concept is known as "2+2," and Harford Community College President Dennis Golladay noted the partnership with Towson is "the first of its kind in Maryland."
"What I hope, is that we serve as a model for other university and other community colleges to work together," he said.
Towson President Maravene Loeschke said 75 percent of Harford Community College students who graduate with the intention of going to a four-year school attend Towson.
"They are magnificently prepared; they graduate at a wonderful rate," she said. "The faculty of Harford Community College is a magnificent faculty, and the advising they've received absolutely keeps them on track."
Loeschke noted Harford and Baltimore counties have long been bound together, since Harford was carved out of Baltimore County in 1773.
"We're partners forever and we are very thrilled about that, and may we just continue on for decades and decades and generations and generations, partnering for the success of our students," she said.
Golladay said the vision for the Towson-Harford partnership began with former HCC president James LaCalle and former Towson president Robert Caret.
"We are here today primarily because two men had a vision, and they put action toward that vision, and this is the result," he said.
Golladay also praised the many local and state officials, with special thanks to Harford County's legislative delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, for their efforts to help Caret and LaCalle put their vision into action.
The Harford president noted the project should be called a "2+2+2," because it also benefits Harford County Public Schools students who go on to Harford Community College and then to Towson.
"This is a win, win, win situation for everybody," he exclaimed.
LaCalle, who attended Thursday's ceremony, said he and Caret began working on the partnership in 2006.
He called the partnership "a simple, cost-effective approach that might work well for other regions in or out of Maryland that are not served by a traditional four-year college campus."
Harford County Executive David Craig, who is a Towson graduate, said the 2+2 project was one of the "first issues" he worked on with LaCalle when Craig took office in mid-2005.
William E. "Brit" Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, told the audience the system is committed to "educational opportunities in the northeast region of our state."
"This region, and I don't have to tell you folks, this region has become a major growth engine for the economy of Maryland with rapidly-increasing needs for a highly-educated workforce," Kirwan said.