Students arriving at the Johns Hopkins University for the new semester today will be greeted by backhoes, dump trucks and large swaths of dug-up mud.
Much of the Homewood campus is a construction site, probably the most disrupted of Maryland's colleges that find themselves in a building boom as students return for the fall.
An anonymous donor gave Hopkins money for a landscaping makeover of its campus with one major proviso - do it now. The result was trying to squeeze what could have been a three-year project into a six-month time slot.
It didn't fit.
"You learn all sorts of things when you do something this fast," said Thomas P. McCracken of Henry H. Lewis Contractors, which is overseeing the landscaping project.
"Do you know it's harder to get bricks from North Carolina during watermelon season? Truckers can make more money hauling watermelons, so many of our bricks arrived by train," McCracken said.
The day after Hopkins' May commencement, fencing started going up around its two quadrangles, and backhoes began digging up asphalt walkways that students had trod for decades. About 900,000 paving bricks from North Carolina - accented by Vermont marble - began to take their place.
New benches and light fixtures arrived. Ramps to buildings were installed. Lawns were dug up and re-sodded. All was supposed to have been a picture of red brick, white marble and green grass by fall.
Then came this summer's rain, along with some unexpected encounters with underground utilities.
The new walkways required a new drainage system and the new landscaping an irrigation system. Digging for those meant finding all sorts of utility conduits running beneath the surface, many that had never been mapped.
Larry Kilduff, Hopkins executive director of facilities, said the donor's short time frame complicated the project. "Without that, we would have done this in stages, probably over three years," he said.
Kilduff said that part of the donor's deal was that the final price tag never be divulged.
The landscape makeover came as Hopkins was building a student arts center, a recreation center and biomedical engineering building. And there were plans for a general campus renovation focusing on traffic patterns, turning the central part of the campus into a pedestrian-only zone.
Much of that work is being dovetailed with the landscape project. By December, the entrance from North Charles Street will return to its original circular pattern.
For the next few weeks at least, students will walk from dormitories on temporary walkways and detour around areas still under construction, such as an ugly patch on the school's upper quad in front of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library.
"They were pumping out this area yesterday hoping to put in the sod today," McCracken said as he surveyed it yesterday. "But then it rained again."
Hopkins is the most torn-up of the state's campuses, though plenty sport the scars of construction.
Most projects - from a new arts center at Morgan State University to new science buildings at Hood College and Salisbury State University - are self-contained and cause little disruption.
At Loyola College, students might have to walk along an unfinished sidewalk to their new recreation center, due to open this month a few blocks north on Charles Street.
But at the University of Maryland, College Park - where they are building a new sports arena, arts center and engineering building, renovating the student union and have several other projects on the drawing board - traffic and parking patterns are likely to be altered for years.
UMCP is losing 500 parking spaces this semester, causing the school to announce that it will begin enforcing a previously ignored rule prohibiting freshmen who live on campus from parking there. All freshmen were advised just to leave their cars at home.
Both College Park and Hopkins have Web sites devoted to the construction that contain updates on progress and advice on driving and parking. The Hopkins site even has fixed cameras trained on work.
About 1,000 freshmen begin arriving at Hopkins today to move into dormitories that yesterday were under assault by the beep of backing dump trucks and roar of revving earth movers.
Those will be stilled for the two-day move-in period, extended from its normal one day, and will crank back into action next week.
Mary Ellen Porter, Hopkins' director of special projects, said the students were warned over the summer what to expect on their arrival and told that the inconvenience should not last long.
But everyone must adjust. School President William R. Brody and his wife, Wendy, who normally cruise through the arriving freshmen on in-line skates, instead will negotiate the narrower pathways on trendy scooters.