HCC donation becomes issue for CA's board


As construction is wrapping up on Howard Community College's visual and performing arts instructional building, the Columbia Association is attempting to decide whether it should donate money to the $20 million project.

Association board member Phil Marcus has suggested that the board contribute $100,000 from each of its 2007 and 2008 budgets -- and he hopes that the $100,000 donations would continue over five years -- because, he said, it is an opportunity for the board to create more art and cultural amenities for the community.

"Without art in one's life, life is not worth living," said Marcus, of Kings Contrivance. "Similarly, without art in one's community, the community is not worth living in."

The board has moved the matter to a committee. At some point, the committee will make a recommendation to the board about whether it should contribute money to the college's Peter & Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center, which includes an art gallery, recital hall and music and painting studios.

Slated to open by Aug. 28, the center received three-fourths of its funding from state and county grants, according to the college. Those grants need to be matched by $5 million from private donations, and the college has raised more than a third of that, the college says.

Richard Talkin, co-chairman of the college's capital fundraising campaign, said he believes that the Columbia Association should contribute to the center because the center aligns with the association's mission of providing for the "health, welfare and benefit for the community."

"If the college was not providing the kinds of services and venues and education and classrooms and theaters and studios and teachers that it was providing, then the people in Columbia, we believe, would be asking for some of those things to be provided by the Columbia Association," he said.

Marcus said that the board has been attempting to support ideas that came out of the weeklong, county-sponsored charrette in October. Residents at those sessions brainstormed about what they would like to see developed in downtown Columbia, and among the ideas was to have more art and cultural amenities.

"And here we have the opportunity to actually put our money where our mouth is, so to speak," he said.

But other board members are unsure whether the Columbia Association -- a nonprofit homeowners organization with $58.7 million in long-term debt -- should be donating money to the cause.

"When we have a considerable debt of our own, I didn't think we should [encumber] the assessment payers with that debt [for a donation]," said board member Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills.

Board member Cynthia Coyle of Harper's Choice said that making donations is a "personal choice" and doesn't see why the association should give money to HCC unless the college it can show that "the entire community cannot get this [amenity] unless HCC provides it."

"If citizens who use HCC on a regular basis feel very committed to HCC, they can provide donations," she said.

However, Marcus said the amount of money per person in the roughly 100,000-population community is "really quite small. We're talking a buck a year per person. That's fairly minor."

Marcus also pointed out that the association has made donations in the past. For its 2007 and 2008 budgets, it is slated to give money to a number of causes including: $100,000 to the Columbia Foundation; $95,000 to the Columbia Festival of the Arts; and $20,000 to the county's Economic Development Authority.

Board member Patrick von Schlag of River Hill said there are many ways that a donation to the college might work, such as creating a "collaborative approach that would allow us to expand art and music programs for our residents."

"I don't think anybody is interested in writing a check and getting a nameplate someplace," he said.


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