Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008

A year later, Montgomery College in better position

More money for construction this year would ease overcrowding

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One of the major issues facing Brian K. Johnson as he completes his first year at the helm of Montgomery College has been the hunt for construction dollars to add capacity to its overcrowded campus.

A year into the job, Johnson learned last week that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget would provide $29.4 million toward the construction of the Rockville science center.

The funding culminates a year of politicking by the county’s state lawmakers. In O’Malley’s first budget last year, Montgomery College received a paltry $1.2 million of a $40.5 million request.

‘‘We certainly had a strong supportive voice from our Montgomery County delegation,” Johnson said. ‘‘They are fully aware what the needs are in terms of space and capacity.”

The Montgomery College money is part of a larger commitment from O’Malley (D); his budget not only increases money for the colleges but narrows the gap between what community colleges get and what they say they need.

Last year the colleges sought $136.8 million and received $58 million. This year, the allotment was $81.2 million on $134 million in requests.

‘‘We are pleased with the governor’s budget,” said Clay Whitlow, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges. ‘‘On the capital side of things, which was a major concern for us, he gave us a substantial increase in funding. We realize that you can’t close the gap in one year.”

For Montgomery College, the money goes to the state’s largest community college with more than 22,000 undergraduate students on three campuses.

The college is still overcrowded because of limited classroom space. Many of the labs are outdated, and there simply isn’t enough parking for all of its students. And some students are turned away because of the space deficiencies, Johnson said.

‘‘If all of those students were here, we’d be in a pickle,” Johnson said. ‘‘We truly are using everything that we have.”

Even with the county’s budget crunch, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has recommended $30 million for Montgomery’s portion of the Rockville center funding. The county executive also put up $3 million for the relocation of a tennis court for more parking lost to the center’s construction.

Also in Leggett’s proposal was a delay to build a Germantown bioscience center; the completion date for the project was pushed back to fiscal 2012.

As for whether the project would receive some sort of funding, it’s ‘‘not clear yet,” said Council President Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown, who is also chairman of the council’s education committee.

Public hearings on the budget are scheduled for next week.

The County Council still has the final say on the budget and is expected to make its decision in May.

For Johnson, who emerged from a pool of 70 applicants last year to become the college’s seventh president in its 60-year history, the year has been filled with receptions and back-and-forth trips to Rockville and Annapolis to ask lawmakers to pay for construction projects. There’s still the occasional basketball game to go to, a speech to give, or students to meet.

‘‘There’s a little more dimension that I can wrap my arms around,” he said. ‘‘It is more exciting now than it was a year ago, because I know more. I’m more engaged emotionally, and what was probably ‘love at first sight’ has definitely blossomed into a true affair.”