A five-year expansion plan at Capitol Technology University in South Laurel will be set in motion with a spring groundbreaking to accommodate the school's growing student population and learning environments.
Founded in 1927 as a training institute in Washington, D.C., president Michael Wood said the university moved to its campus off Springfield Road in the early 1980s. Certificates and degree programs offer undergraduate and graduate studies in engineering, information and computer sciences and business.
Students work closely with and are often hired at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and NSA, Wood said, both within 10 miles of the campus.
Total enrollment remains under 1,000 students, but is expected to increase by double digits in the next few years. Wood said on-campus housing is available for 200 students, while an additional 80 students are housed off-campus at the Towers at University Town Center in Hyattsville.
"The expansion has been evolving over the last two to three years because we felt the simultaneous need to expand our facilities, infrastructure and capabilities for academic purposes and resident life," Wood said. "As our programs have grown, we've run out of laboratory space. We need to modernize and build new labs."
The L-shaped university campus is tucked away between Woodbridge Crossing and Sumner Grove communities. Four academic buildings and an auditorium sit on the north side of the campus, with six residential buildings off Springfield Road and parking throughout the area. The William G. McGowan Academic Center, the last building constructed on campus, was built in spring 2005 for academic and laboratory classrooms.
Expansion plans are outlined in a multi-phase development project to fill the university's empty bed of land, beginning with a four-story, 222-bed student residence hall and an attached one- or two-story academic laboratory on the southeast corner of the 52-acre campus. Wood said construction on the residence hall and academic space will begin this spring and the building will be occupied by fall 2018.
Another 222-bed residential building is also planned nearby on the northeast corner, which will be adjacent to more academic buildings. Their construction date has not yet been determined, but will conclude with demolishing the original residence halls and building a new student center.
The new buildings will surround untouched open space where an athletic field is planned.
"We're looking at about $20 million for the first phase with the residence hall and the attached academic and laboratory facility," Wood said. "[Each phase will] be close to yearly or have a year break in between as we test what we have and what else we need."
A supporting grant from the state and bonds issued by the Maryland Education Development Corporation for investor involvement will fund the project. Wood said the development team includes developer Heffner & Weber, Grimm & Parker Architects and general contractor Manekin Construction.
"In the long haul, it's going to save us money because we're subsidizing the cost of student housing at the Towers complex as well as paying for the shuttle service that we provide," Wood said. "The advantage to the community is the attention it will draw to the campus and possibly other development in the Laurel-Beltsville community."
During a project presentation for the public last September, some residents of surrounding communities expressed concerns about the developer's conceptual plan to build townhomes and/or single-family homes for public and student use.
Mitch Weber, a partner in the project, said the idea behind additional housing is at the "highly conceptual level" and would include county and community input.
"If it were to happen, it would provide a buffer between student housing and [Springfield Road]," Weber said. "There aren't any apartments in the neighborhoods, so by having low-density townhouses or single-family homes, it would block the view of student housing. It would be an architecturally desirable approach."
The developer is focusing on the university expansion first, Weber added.
"It's possible it will never happen. It's something that we're pursuing extremely cautiously and with input from the community," Weber said. "Given the fact that a large number of the faculty are adjunct, we believe that there could be some demand for graduate students as well as faculty that would live adjacent to the campus."
As a 26-year resident of Woodbridge Crossing, Al Gray, president of his homeowners association, said university students deserve to live on-campus, but rental townhomes would be "distasteful" and destructive to surrounding property values.
"I've seen neighborhoods that have had a growth of rental properties and some renters who don't care about the properties and let it get run down," Gray said. "We've had some examples of people who rented and didn't care about the appearance of the exterior of their homes. Property values, of course, reflect the drive-by impression of potential buyers."
Gray said he agreed with the university's decision to expand on-campus housing, as students "deserve to be on-campus."
"They're good neighbors. We have many of the students who walk through our community to get to the nearby Bedford Park," he said. "They're nice people. They're doing nothing more than what young adults do, but they've all been well behaved."
While no decisions have been made about additional housing, Wood said that capitalizing on the university's available space and land would create "a much more inclusive, active, multifaceted learning environment for our students.
"At the same time, we don't want to overpopulate the place," Wood said. "We want good, comfortable learning facilities and arrangements for our students."