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Although Carroll Community College students have compared their new campus to a shopping mall, the $13.5 million structure has received accolades from a slew of others, including Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

With great fanfare, the three-story building, crowned by a glass atrium, opened its doors to record student enrollment -- more than 2,300 students -- late last summer. Its opening marked a milestone in the college's 14-year history: CCC had its first permanent home.

"It's one of the finest buildings I've seen in a long time," Schaefer said during the formal dedication in October. "It's bright, it's different.

I like this architecture."

Twenty years ago, the community college was just a thought -- an idea bandied about by parent-teacher organizations and business leaders who recognized the need for affordable higher education in Carroll County, said Barbara Charnock, chair of the CCC Advisory Board.

"It's shocking it ever got done," observed Michael Fitzgerald, a CCC Advisory Board member and a former student who took classes in some of the college's former buildings.

CCC's 1984 master plan called for the new campus to be completed in 1989, but architectural and financial snags bogged down the process. A year was lost when state officials waited to process the paperwork amid Maryland's savings and loan crisis in 1987.

The new building, situated on 80 acres off Washington Road, represents only the first phase of a planned $49.1 million campus.

Other phases of the project, to be completed over a 10-year span, include a multipurpose building for more offices and classrooms, a physical education facility and a fine- and performing-arts center.

With the new building has come renewed prospects for independence.

The Future of Carroll Community College Task Force Report recommended that CCC, which opened as a branch campus of Catonsville Community College in 1976, work toward becoming an independent institution and that the County Commissioners appoint a transition team to develop detailed information necessary to support an independent institution.

However, the report, released in October, did not set a time frame in order to allow commissioners and college officials ample time to evaluate the work of the transition team and minimize disruption to CCC students.

Meanwhile, CCC officials hope to proceed with construction of the proposed multipurpose building, which would be attached to the main building through an enclosed walkway. The additional space is needed to accommodate a growing enrollment. The project is part of a $7.1 million capital program the college submitted to the county planning commission in October.

The college lost is executive director, Elizabeth D. Blake, who guided the college from its founding in 1976 until her departure in September.

Alan M. Schuman, CCC's director of administration who was appointed interim director in October, would not comment on whether he would apply for Blake's job -- now called executive dean and paying between $47,129 and $66,000. A search gets under way next month.

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