Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced major building projects yesterday for Coppin State and Morgan State universities, reversing what he said were years of underfunding for the two historically black colleges in Baltimore.
Coppin would receive $47.6 million for a Health and Human Services building - the school's first new academic building in 25 years - and nearly $4 million for a new physical education building under Ehrlich's 2006 capital budget proposal.
The plan would give Morgan more than $30 million for capital projects, including a $23 million renovation for a building to house the School of Education and Urban Studies, utility upgrades and money to equip a new library.
The proposals are part of a $947.5 million capital budget focused heavily on education, environment and health care projects around the state. The plan includes $157 million for school construction, $139 million for Chesapeake Bay restoration projects, $46.7 million for community colleges and $39.3 million for hospital renovations and expansion.
During his campaign for governor in 2002, Ehrlich signed a pledge at Coppin to pursue 12 issues of interest to African-Americans, including boosting funding for historically black colleges. Yesterday he said he is keeping that pledge.
"A lot of these institutions have been underfunded over the years, ... particularly Coppin," Ehrlich said. "The system had not treated certain schools very well, so it's a natural thing for us to do."
The Health and Human Services building at Coppin will house the school's criminal justice, social work and rehabilitative counseling programs, and a portion of the education program, said Jerel Booker, Coppin's associate vice president for external affairs.
A report in 2001 by a state-appointed panel found that Coppin had $300 million in building needs over the next decade.
"At Coppin, after the struggle we've had, we're elated," Booker said.
The physical education complex will include a new basketball arena, outdoor track, swimming pool, weight rooms, offices and storage space. The new buildings are part of a 10-year plan drafted in 2000, he said.
"People make plans and never do anything with them, but thanks to the governor, ours is actually funded," Booker said. "We're finally getting the funding we deserve."
Morgan spokesman Clinton R. Coleman said this year's funding comes on top of a series of construction projects in the works for more than a decade, including new or renovated buildings for the engineering and communications programs, a student-life center, a new library and a new fine arts building.
"We've got a lot of cranes in the air," he said.
This year's funding will help the campus upgrade its utilities and provide new equipment and books for the library.
"Right now, we're playing catch up, and we'd like to be able to move to the next level," Coleman said.
As Ehrlich promised when he unveiled his operating budget last week, the capital budget includes $57 million more than the $100 million the state spent last year on school construction and renovations. But two jail projects were deferred, and the governor eliminated the $15 million allocated last year for legislators' local projects.
Although Ehrlich included money for hospital projects, he eliminated a hospital building and renovation fund that was worth $5 million last year. The Maryland Hospital Association, whose members would have benefited from the $5 million, crossed Ehrlich by supporting the override of his veto of a medical malpractice reform bill this month.
The governor has emphasized the importance of school construction in recent days and has tied additional funding to the passage of his slot machine gambling initiative.
Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who pledged this week to work with Ehrlich to pass a slots bill, said school construction has become the hottest issue in the state.
"It's critical in Baltimore County because we are in crisis on that issue, but it's critical across the state," Smith said.
Other large projects in the budget include $12.3 million for a new student services building at Howard Community College, $8 million for the Baltimore County detention center expansion and $10.2 million for a new Hagerstown barracks for the Maryland State Police.
Even as they began reviewing the capital budget for projects in their areas, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, Howard County Executive James N. Robey and other local officials were imploring lawmakers to spare them from budget cuts.
Appearing before the Senate budget committee, O'Malley said the governor's operating budget proposal is an improvement for local governments because it restores some money for road projects. But local governments have suffered years of state cutbacks, he said, and can't bear any more.
"We have become much more efficient and effective, but it has come at a cost," O'Malley said.
Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.
Capital budget highlights
Coppin State University's Health and Human Services Building: $47.6 million
Morgan State University building renovation: $23.1 million
Shady Grove Educational Center in Montgomery County: $51.9 million
University of Maryland Medical System's Ambulatory and Patient Care Centers: $15 million
Johns Hopkins' Pediatric Trauma Center and Cardiovascular and Critical Care Tower: $10 million