BACK IN 1961, when the Anne Arundel Community College was launched after five years of study, it had 270 full- and part-time students. Today, some 12,000 students are taking classes at the school's burgeoning campus in Arnold and satellite facility in Glen Burnie.
The North County branch has just been reopened after a $1.1 million facelift. That virtually doubled the college's space at the Arundel Center North. In addition to a half-dozen classrooms, the facility includes computer labs, two seminar rooms and space for academic and student services. The renovation even provided a student lounge with vending machines, a microwave and a place for students to relax. Community college officials expect to draw at least 250 students a day to the expanded setting.
The beefed-up branch is the kind of people magnet the Glen Burnie town center needs if it is ever going to be revitalized. In its heyday in the 1950s, folks crowded the old Robinson's department store and the crossroad's movie theaters, its restaurants and gas stations. The area's decline started soon after James W. Rouse opened Harundale Mall as the East Coast's first enclosed shopping center in 1958, triggering the phenomenal retail development along Ritchie Highway.
The past decade has brought much talk about revitalizing downtown Glen Burnie. Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary has proposed developing a county-owned, 5.56-acre parking lot next to the Arundel Center North office tower into a mixed-use residential and commercial complex with an ice-skating rink or a center for the performing arts. Such an idea recognizes that aside from some specialty shops, the heart of Glen Burnie probably does not have a future as a retail area.
The area around Crain Highway and Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard became Glen Burnie's original town center a century ago, after the property near the old Dorsey ironworks was developed in 1889. Yet it was only 66 years ago that the federal government settled on a correct spelling of the town which had been known as Glenn Burnie, Glenburnie and Glen Burney.
Activity hubs such as the community college and a proposed light-rail terminus are essential if downtown Glen Burnie is to become lively again.