Board balks at $20 million cost hike for Towson University arena

By Andy Rosen

State fiscal leaders balked Wednesday at the price tag for a new arena at Towson University, after a design change intended to quell community opposition increased the expected cost by more than two thirds.

The Board of Public Works approved a contract that devotes $50,000 to construction management of the facility, but appear likely to be back with more questions when a larger construction contract comes before the board, made up of the governor, comptroller and treasure. The total cost of the new arena is expected to increase from about $41 million to about $62 million.

The plan to pay for the project doesn’t use direct state higher education funding. Instead it relies on fundraising, as well as bonds that will be repaid using revenue generated by the facility.

The project had originally been planned as an addition to the east side of the building, but community groups opposed that location.

The Rodgers Forge Community and the university went over several plans, and the school ultimately agreed to build on a sloping area on the northwestern side of the building. That option satisfied the association, but was the likely most expensive on the table. The school and the community group agreed on the location in February, nearly two years after planning began for the expansion.

Comptroller Peter Franchot said he was glad the community was satisfied, but questioned the cost.

“Have we just got piles of money lying around?” he asked.

The school plans to build a 5,000 seat arena attached to the existing Towson Center. Originally, the school studied renovating the current structure, but in the end decided that building an addition would be more cost effective. David Mayhew, facilities director for Towson, said the new structure would still be economical, even with the price increase. In addition, he pointed out that the plan allows the school to continue to use the existing structure while the addition is under construction.

The addition has been slated to begin construction next year, assuming approval by the BPW, and it would be completed in 2013. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown sat in for Gov. Martin O’Malley at Wednesday’s meeting.

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