An expanded 736-space parking garage opened at Howard Community College today to alleviate a lack of parking on the Columbia campus.
College spokeswoman Elizabeth Homan said funding for the $16.4 million newly expanded east garage came from the college, the county and a bond sale. Planning for the garage began in the summer of 2012 and construction began in February 2016.
The project was completed last week in time for the spring semester, which started Saturday.
"Enrollment at Howard Community College increased nearly 45 percent [since 2006], the largest increase among the community colleges in Maryland," Homan said. "As the campus added new buildings and parking to accommodate enrollment growth, infrastructure simply could not keep [up the] pace."
The original east garage, built in 2006, has 518 spaces. Construction of the west garage followed in 2011 with 723 spaces. However, the demand for more parking remained on the college's radar, Homan said, as students were encouraged to carpool or use the provided shuttle.
Off-campus satellite parking lots were also created at Sterrett Place, Hickory Ridge Village Center and the former Columbia Flier building.
Howard County Times: Top stories
"This east garage expansion was in the college's facilities master plan," Homan said. "[The expansion is] greater than all the off-campus satellite parking spaces combined, so the shuttles have been discontinued."
Students can access the five-level east garage through a new entrance off Little Patuxent Parkway. Rather than walking across a street, a covered, lighted pedestrian bridge connects the garage to the James Clark Jr. Library and Burrill Galleria. Another shorter, uncovered walkway also connects the original portion of the garage to the same area.
Freshman Emily Day, 19, said more parking was a necessity for the growing campus. While her classes weren't always in the mornings, Day said she had to get to campus early to guarantee herself a parking spot in the west garage.
"That's why I try to get here early around 8 or 9 a.m.," Day said. "There's usually space on the fourth or fifth level."
Walking out of the original east garage, sophomore Anthony Farnella said campus parking was easier to find earlier in the semester, but became increasingly difficult later in the year. It was unlikely he would find parking between 10 a.m. and noon, he added.
"There were times when I couldn't go to class because I couldn't find parking," the 21-year-old commuter said. "Or, I had to come to class an hour or an hour and a half earlier and study. Sometimes, even overflow is a problem, but with the expansion, I don't think we're going to see any problems like that. … I'm really glad they put this in now."
Homan said the facilities master plan will continue to address increasing parking availability on campus, beginning construction of another parking garage on Lot A in 2025.