Approving a $3.5 million matching grant for Western Maryland College would allow the private institution to bring its science program into the modern age, college President Robert Chambers told the House Appropriations Committee yesterday.
"In my 11 years as president, the need for new lab facilities has been part of our long-range plan and our top priority," Dr. Chambers said, noting that the college's Lewis Hall of Science was built in 1914 and renovated in 1966.
"You can see how little some of our science laboratories have changed since 1941," Dr. Chambers said, referring to photos in a booklet he gave the committee that show the facility on the Westminster campus.
"As you can see, the only difference in 1995 is that we've renovated the lights."
College officials intend to use the grant, proposed by Democratic Del. Richard N. Dixon of Westminster, to renovate and build additions at Lewis Hall, which houses biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics programs.
If approved, the grant would pay for about one-third of the $9.2 million project, which includes building new wet laboratories for the chemistry and biology programs and a 42,000-square-foot annex, said Joyce Muller, a college spokeswoman.
All Western Maryland students are required to take a laboratory science course to graduate, so renovations would benefit the entire student population, she said.
"We have an excellent program but lousy facilities," Ms. Muller said.
She said much of what the college needs for the facility would allow it to comply with regulations that cover science buildings, particularly those that house experiments and research, "things like fume hoods and all the things you would have in a new building that we don't have."
Nevertheless, Western Maryland has always had a strong science program with many students becoming distinguished doctors and scientists, Dr. Chambers said.
For example, Western Maryland graduates discovered the link between salt, iodine and goiter; did much of the work that made coronary bypass surgery possible; and discovered the cause of Legionnaires' disease, he said.
Dr. Chambers also said the biology department has a four-year grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of the chemistry professors is a Camille and Henry Dreyfuss scholar, and students have the only undergraduate account on the Cray Super Computer at Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center.
"But these facilities are antiquated in scientific terms," he said. "We simply must provide our students with a facility equal to their needs and commensurate with their abilities."
An identical bill, submitted by Republican Sen. John A. Cade of Anne Arundel County, was heard in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee yesterday.