Howard Community College's ribbon cutting for its new science, engineering and technology building Monday morning was met with cheers and applause as faculty, staff and students rein in the start of the fall semester this weekend.
College president Kathleen Hetherington led the celebration alongside state and local officials, including Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, state Sen. Gail Bates and Howard County Council members Jon Weinstein and Calvin Ball.
More than 80 visitors flooded the entrance on Aug. 21 to look at the fully finished building.
Patti Turner, the dean of the Science, Engineering and Technology Division, said the four-story, 145,300-square-foot building opened in May for summer classes, which ended Aug. 11. The ribbon cutting marked "a milestone" for the community college, she said, after spending the past four years working on the building's inception, design and construction.
County and state capital funds paid for the community college's latest addition, which cost nearly $77 million. Turner said the previous science and technology building, built in 1987, could not keep up with the technological advancements in teaching and learning.
"The technology and the ability to integrate the technology you're teaching here is cutting-edge," Turner said. "The faculty and staff are well prepared for it and so much of their time and energy went into planning it, so they know exactly how to use the facility."
New labs and amenities include a digital fabrication and 3-D printing lab, cyber security and computer forensics labs, an undergraduate research lab, a green house and a rooftop telescope observation. Among the faculty offices and a community room, staff and students can also study physics with experiments in a drop zone area.
Inside the two-story engineering lab space are 40-foot ceilings, a catwalk and steel cage around the second story, where students can use enhanced technology, fabrication tools, a crane and a drive-in garage door.
Hetherington said she felt like faculty and staff were reliving Christmas morning over and over during the summer when they opened boxes of new microscopes and other types of equipment. Walking through the building is "breathtaking," she said, and reminds her of New York City's Guggenheim Museum because of its curved architecture.
"Sometimes, educational buildings are put up without a whole lot of thought to the beauty of it," Hetherington said. "It's the function that's incredibly important, but it has been designed in such a way that really exudes beauty. [Architects] worked hand-in-hand with the faculty who use the facility, so without the faculty input I don't think it would be as dynamic."
During summer classes, most of the laboratories were used, Turner said, while a few Astronomy Club events were held on the observation deck. The undergraduate research lab was untouched but will get plenty of use this fall.
"People have been coming in and seeing incremental progress," she said. "Now, we get to show not only a building with everything in it, but we get to see people using it."
Missy Mattey, the director of development and executive director of HCC's education foundation, guided guests through the main hallway Monday, where passersby saw stick-figure images of themselves captured on an interactive monitor on the wall.
Turner said students can also use the monitors for science games.
Julian Jones said she was excited to explore the building. The 18-year-old student from Marriottsville started taking HCC classes at the Applications Research Lab during her junior year of high school and waived her senior year to go to HCC full-time.
"This new science, engineering and technology building will be such an asset to students like me because we get the hands-on experience to work with new technology and continue to learn," Jones said.
State Del. Eric Ebersole, of District 12, said the SET building is just what HCC needed to continue to expand its opportunities for county education.
"It has always been clear to me how important community college is to serve as a bridge for students to get themselves to further education after their public education or whatever education they have or to a profession," said Ebersole, who taught in Howard County for 35 years.
Rutherford, a Howard County native, said coming to HCC "is like coming home."