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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

MD to spend $400M to spruce up Coppin

Coppin State University is planning an ambitious $400 million effort to revitalize its West Baltimore campus, an attempt to make up for a longstanding lack of state funding for the historically black institution.

The first piece of the university's plan -- a new $52 million health and human services building -- is under construction and scheduled to open in fall 2008. Planning for a new physical education complex centered around a 4,100-seat sports arena is already under way.

Future plans call for numerous other projects including a a new science and technology building, a performing arts center and a student center.

Coppin President Stanley F. Battle, who is leaving next summer to lead North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, said an influx of state support is long overdue for the campus, which had 4,100 enrolled students this fall.

The institution, he said, was "woefully underfunded" before he arrived in 2003 from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

"I was really appalled at what I saw when I got here," Battle said.

A group formed by state higher education officials concluded in 2001 that the institution, founded in 1900 as a one-room school for black teachers, had "severely deficient" classroom and office space and antiquated water, sewer and electrical systems. That study recommended $300 million in upgrades over 10 years.

In an effort to fix those problems, Battle said he has worked to build support among lawmakers and University System of Maryland regents to provide more funding.

That effort has been successful. Last year, lawmakers and Gov. Robert Ehrlich provided more than $21 million in money for building projects and improvements to utility and security systems.

With construction under way on a new 160,000-square-foot health and human services building, Battle said, "Every time I look at it I just say, 'Hallelujah.' "

Another major project in the works is a new physical education complex being built in partnership with the Maryland Stadium Authority. The authority has not finalized the project's costs, but it is expected to total more than $100 million and projected to open in fall 2009.

Demolition of several commercial buildings on the site is scheduled to start next summer, said Eric Johnson, project director with the Maryland Stadium Authority.

The complex will include an eight-lane, 75-yard pool, three gyms, a 400-meter track, eight tennis courts and a softball field.

"We'll be able to attract even stronger competition [and] attract better athletes," Battle said. "It's a recognition of where this institution is going."

The state has provided funding for the health sciences building and has the athletic complex in its capital budget plans.

But Battle said funding for future projects -- such as an $80 million science and technology center -- is far from certain. The university is planning to ask for $15 million in next year's capital budget to buy properties needed for that building, Battle said. "I don't know if we're going to get that," he said.

During Battle's administration, Coppin took on the title of university, a change from Coppin State College. It also launched a $15 million fundraising drive in fall 2005. Battle was named chancellor of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in Greensboro, N.C., effective next July.

The state university system's chancellor, William E. "Brit" Kirwan, said Battle was an effective advocate for bringing more funding to Coppin State.

Kirwan, who is in the process of setting up a search committee to look for a new president, said the infusion of dollars into the campus will make it easier to find a new president.

"We're going to attract a strong pool of candidates," Kirwan said.

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