A new brick tower looms over the University of Maryland's downtown Baltimore campus, but it doesn't contain a clock or bells the way most collegiate towers do.
Concealed within this 10-story-tall tower are giant stacks that will be used to exhaust fumes from 80 laboratories inside the six-story research building to which it is attached.
Visible from blocks around, this high-tech smokestack is the newest symbol of the University of Maryland's continuing efforts to turn its downtown campus into a center for the life sciences.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and other dignitaries were scheduled to gather today to open the $55.8 million complex, called the Health Sciences Facility, to the hundreds of researchers, clinicians and technicians who will take occupancy over the next several months. A black tie gala will be held there Saturday night.
Academic leaders say the building is a concrete manifestation of the university's growth and the life sciences initiative that is guiding it.
"This facility is where people will be bringing research to life -- for the city, the state and, in many cases, for the world," said Dr. Donald E. Wilson, dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "It is truly a place where imagination and discovery will soar."
Located at 685 W. Baltimore St., the building is part of a $500 million construction wave that is transforming the UniversityCenter neighborhood, which includes the UMAB campus, the University of Maryland Medical System and the Baltimore VA Medical Center.
Last fall, the $90 million Homer Gudelsky Building opened at Lombard and Greene streets. In January, the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute will open its $40 million Maryland Biotechnology Center on Lombard Street.
As a result of this flurry of construction activity, "the University of Maryland at Baltimore is poised to become one of the nation's premier life sciences campuses," said UMAB President David J. Ramsay.
As designed by Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore and CUH2A of Princeton, N.J., the facility that opens today will provide 86,000 square feet of biomedical research space for the medical school and other University of Maryland professional schools associated with human health services.
Designed to foster collaboration between disciplines, it is physically linked by overhead walkways to two other campus buildings, the Medical School Teaching Facility on the west and Howard Hall on the east.
Vicki Strittmater, director of public affairs for the medical school, said occupants will begin moving in next week.
More than 95 percent of the space already has been committed, mostly to medical school faculty members and researchers moving from two crowded buildings, the Bressler Research Building and the teaching facility.
Because of the links with neighboring buildings, "We will have biochemists, molecular biologists, nurses, anatomists, pharmacologists and physiologists all working together and exchanging ideas," Dr. Wilson said.
In all, the Health Sciences Facility is expected to generate $20 million in net new income for the university each year -- $10 million in direct new grant and contract income, and $10 million in indirect spinoff income.
Its opening will lead to the creation of 370 permanent research-related jobs, Ms. Strittmater said, because it gives the university room to hire more technicians and other staffers.
One of the building's initial occupants will be Dr. Robert Gallo, the famed virologist who announced plans this year to move his operations from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda to the University of Maryland at Baltimore.
University officials already have preliminary plans to construct a $50 million, 100,000-square-foot addition directly south of the existing structure by the year 2000.