No building slowdown on campus

The Brody Learning Commons at Johns Hopkins University is a 45,000-square-foot addition to the Milton Eisenhower Library.
The Brody Learning Commons at Johns Hopkins University is a 45,000-square-foot addition to the Milton Eisenhower Library. (Colby Ware / Special to The Baltimore Sun)

Johns Hopkins is building a 45,000-square-foot addition to its centerpiece Milton S. Eisenhower Library.

Loyola University Maryland is putting the finishing touches on new teaching and research laboratories at the Donnelly Science Center.

And at the University of Baltimore, a private developer is designing a student apartment building as a new law center takes shape.

While new commercial construction in and around Baltimore remains moribund, big projects are sprouting on the region's university campuses.

The hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects at public and private institutions in the Baltimore area highlights the financial strength of higher education when conditions for other sectors are difficult.

"Higher education tends to be countercyclical," said Richard Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute. "When the economy turns bad, people stay in school longer pursuing advanced degrees, and people who lose their jobs go back to get retrained."

The campus building boom stands in stark contrast to the commercial market. Construction of offices, mixed-use developments and other projects has yet to pick up in the recovering economy. The amount of office space built in the Baltimore area has been declining each year since 2008, a trend that is expected to continue this year, according to commercial brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield.

Educational institutions are responding to anticipated growth in enrollment and demand for cutting-edge technology and specialized degree programs by upgrading and expanding academic buildings, adding new facilities and boosting the offerings for student housing. And universities are joining forces with private developers to redevelop nearby off-campus sites, in the Baltimore area and elsewhere.

"The college business is pretty competitive, and they have to provide contemporary facilities if they want to attract the professors and students they want," said John K. McIlwain, senior resident fellow at the Washington-based Urban Land Institute. "If you're in the business, and you can't move your business and it's competitive, you've got to do all the building you can afford to do, even in hard times, to stay current."

Unlike private developments that rely on bank and investor financing, universities can turn to state capital project financing, endowment funds and philanthropic donations. Many state-funded projects on area campuses were approved years before the economy sank into recession, and continue to be viewed as sound investments to meet increasing demand. And the construction slowdown has reduced the cost of building, making it a good time to start new projects.

"If you have the resources, the market is certainly favorable for construction because there's just not a lot of work out there right now," said Helen Schneider, associate vice president for facilities at Loyola.

At Hopkins, the $30 million Brody Learning Commons, the 45,000-square-foot addition to the library scheduled to open next year, has been in the works since 2004. The university was able to move forward on the project after meeting its fund raising goals.

The university also is completing the design for a $61 million, five-story addition to the biology complex. That project will replace older, outdated classrooms and laboratories for physics, chemistry and biochemistry that now are scattered across the campus. Hopkins hopes to break ground in June for the two-year project, which is to be paid for with a mix of donations and debt funding.

Other major projects at Hopkins include the $10 million Cordish Lacrosse Center, to break ground in July, and Malone Hall, a $33 million facility to house Whiting School of Engineering, now in the design phase, to open by summer 2014. That project stemmed from a $30 million gift from alumnus John C. Malone, chairman of Liberty Media Group.

The pace of new projects at Hopkins has remained steady throughout the economic downturn and recovery, said Larry Kilduff, the university's executive director for facilities management.

"Generally speaking, there hasn't been a slowdown," Kilduff said. "We're continuing to move projects that have been in the university's strategic plan for some time, things that have been hovering in the queue for three or four years. To the extent that philanthropy was able to support projects going ahead and use debt as a financing vehicle, we had the debt capacity to do that."

The highest-profile project at the University of Baltimore is the $107 million John and Frances Angelos Law Center, at Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue. The 190,000-square-foot building, which will rise 12 stories, is being funded with general obligation bonds from the state and private donations, kicked off by Baltimore attorney and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos.

The school, which expanded its undergraduate program in 2007 from an upper-division college to a more traditional four-year program, is also planning a 114-unit student apartment building on Biddle Street to be developed by Bethesda-based developers Potomac Holdings. That site is owned by UB's University Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the university. The project, costing $24.5 million and providing an additional 323 beds, is expected to meet increasing demand by students who want to live near campus.

Private donations "help launch a project, and general obligation bonds are a cost-effective way for the state to invest," said Steve Cassard, the university's vice president for facilities management and capital planning.

Loyola University Maryland is close to completing a $12.5 million addition and renovation to its Donnelly Science Center to add teaching labs for biology, chemistry and engineering, and research labs for computer science and robotics.

The project, being financed with the help of $3.25 million from the state through a grant program for independent colleges, fits into the state's strategy of advancing the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) curriculum. It is slated for completion in August.

Loyola completed a $60 million athletic complex on Cold Spring Lane a year ago, which includes a stadium for men's and women's soccer and lacrosse and frees up space on the academic campus.

Building activity has also been brisk at Morgan State University and Goucher College.

Goucher is relying in part on a state grant but working to raise private donations to fund renovations of its nearly 60-year-old Julia Rogers Building. The former library will get a makeover to house physics, math, computer science and psychology classrooms and offices, as well as space for a new environmental studies program and the language departments, said Linda Barone, the school's project manager in the facilities management services.

Goucher moved its library collection in 2009 to the newly built Athenaeum, a mixed-use building. The refurbished space in the Julia Rogers Building will help alleviate the space crunch on a campus where the student population has grown 25 percent, to 1,500, in the past eight years, Barone said.

Morgan is building a new $63.9 million Center for Built Environment and Infrastructure Studies for its School of Architecture & Planning. The project, financed through the state's capital projects programs, has been on the books for at least five years. It is scheduled to open in the fall of 2012.

And a new $69 million school of business, now in the design phase and expected to open in 2015, will replace an outdated facility that "does not function for a growing, enterprising school of business," said Kim McCalla, assistant vice president for design and construction management at Morgan.

The new school is to be built on the site of the Northwood Shopping Center, where former stores are being demolished to make way for construction.

Some of the projects involve partnerships between educational institutions and private developers, who have found it mutually beneficial to join forces on construction aimed at revitalizing areas near campus.

Such is the case in College Park, where the University of Maryland and the Cordish Cos. have teamed up to build 1.2 to 1.4 million square feet of housing, offices, shops and hotel space across Route 1 from the main campus.

Officials of the university, which owns the land and will lease it, see the amenities as ways to attract students and faculty, while the developers, who will secure financing, get the benefit of a ready market.

The approach has been successful at the University of Baltimore, where Cassard says the the Fitzgerald apartment tower — developed by the Bozzuto Group on university-owned land to house university workers and other professionals — is now about 94 percent occupied.

"We're in midtown, but we don't necessarily have borders," he said. "We're very integrated into midtown, and there are mutual benefits…in the economic growth and renewal of midtown."