California, MD — When Gov. Larry Hogan released his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, expected monies to finish the design and engineering for the third building at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center (SMHEC) were missing. A big push is now underway to get the monies restored. The Southern Maryland Legislative Delegation and the Commissioners of St. Mary’s County have been solicited in the effort.

The third building would be constructed by the University of Maryland and used for their unmanned systems program. President of the Board of Trustees of SMHEC Joe Anderson told the county commissioners at their Feb. 10 meeting that $2.5 million has already been budgeted for the design and engineering of the $80 million building, but $3.85 million more is needed to complete the work and get the project ready for construction. The governor’s budget delays that funding two years.

“We believe the building represents the best chance for Southern Maryland and St. Mary’s County to realize our goal of diversification,” Anderson told the commissioners. He added, “We feel the table has been set for success but we need your support.”

That table was formally set last August with the establishment of the University of Maryland Unmanned Test Site at St. Mary’s County Airport a short distance away from SMHEC. Anderson said work is already underway at the airport by private companies committed to the future of unmanned systems.

Anderson said the adding of the monies back in the budget has the support of secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and the chancellor of the University of Maryland. Anderson said he also got good vibes from the Southern Maryland Delegation during a briefing to them on Friday, Feb. 6.

St. Mary’s County Commissioner President Randy Guy [R] said he has been told by Senator Steve Waugh [R; 29th District] that he supports the project. Support was also verbalized by the commissioners during the briefing, but there was no formal vote taken at that meeting.

Commissioner Todd Morgan [R; 4th District] said SMHEC was a key piece of infrastructure that helped the area come out ahead during the past rounds of BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure]. Another BRAC round was proposed in the just released Defense Department budget for Fiscal Year 2016.  

Upon questioning by Commissioner John O’Connor [R; 3rd District] about whether a missed deadline caused the governor to delay the funding, Anderson insisted, “No deadlines were missed.” Anderson said the project was in keeping with Gov. Hogan’s economic vision for Maryland.

Commissioner Tom Jarboe [R: 1st] said the community needed to “think outside the box” to capture some of the ever-increasing demand globally for unmanned systems. He said that needed to be done now so that business isn’t lost while the third building is constructed.

Anderson said that SMHEC has an agreement with the University of Maryland that the model of attracting an array of colleges and offerings would be continued in the new building, even though it would be owned by the university.

According to SMHEC Executive Director Dr. Mel Powell, the institution, in its two existing buildings, has offered 90 programs in the fields of engineering and technology, education, management and business, social work, counseling and nursing. Enrollment has totaled 41,075 in its 19 years of existence.

“This Could Be the Start of Something Big,” the title of an old Steve Allen song, was how University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan described the opening of the University of Maryland Unmanned Test Site at St. Mary’s County Airport last summer.

Supporters of the third SMHEC building are hoping that the governor’s budget doesn’t put a stop to that momentum.