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St. John donates $10M to UM for classroom center

Edward St. John, founder of the commercial real estate company, St. John Properties Inc., announced a $10 million gift to the University of Maryland Wednesday to help build a new, state-of-the-art, multipurpose classroom center on the College Park campus.

Edward St. John

The $63 million, 47,900-square-foot building will be a public-private effort and will be called the Edward St. John Teaching and Learning Center.

Gov. Martin O’Malley last year budgeted about $48 million for the Teaching and Learning Center in the state’s Capital Improvement Plan, with a provision that the funds could not be released until the university raised the remainder through private sources.

That state pledge must be re-evaluated during the 2012 General Assembly session and then finalized in the 2013 capital budget request, which will also require legislative approval.

St. John is a 1961 graduate of UM, where he majored in engineering.

He founded St. John Properties 40 years ago, and the company has grown into a mega commercial leasing operation, including the exclusive leasing of office space located outside of Aberdeen Proving Ground, where BRAC — the military Base Realignment and Closure process — has sparked major development for private defense contractors in Harford County.

This year, St. John retired as president and CEO and became chairman of the company. He also oversees the charitable Edward St. John Foundation, which contributes to education efforts in Maryland.

“This signature building is destined to be one of the most popular and heavily used on campus, and it is a dramatic step forward educationally,” University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh said in a statement. “It will give students every educational advantage that you’d expect from a world-class university.”

The center will be the first such building built at UM in 50 years dedicated to teaching and learning, officials said Wednesday. It is expected to offer seating for 2,000 students and draw 10,000 students each day from across the expansive campus for classes and studies.

The proposed building will be located at the current site of Holzapfel Hall along the campus’s McKeldin Mall, plus the area behind it extending to Campus Drive.

“This is one of our most needed facilities,” Loh said. “Up to 10,000 students per day from across campus will learn there. Without Mr. St. John’s vision and generosity this educational center might well have languished for many more years.”

University officials have unsuccessfully lobbied the General Assembly for a new classroom space for decades. The university has a 70,000-square-foot dearth of classroom space, according to estimations by UM officials.

Current lecture halls at UMCP are located in 60-year-old buildings that lack high-tech teaching tools such as smart boards.

“What worked in the past isn’t adequate today,” Loh said.

Added St. John: “I strongly believe that education has the power to transform lives and strengthen communities, and know that this center will benefit University of Maryland students for decades to come.”