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Finishing touches: UB’s new Angelos Law Center gets ready for its close-up

The University of Baltimore School of Law’s new building is 12 stories of neon greens, yellows and oranges, with winding staircases and windows at every turn.

Maple staircases wind up the 12 floors of the University of Baltimore School of Law’s new John and Frances Angelos Law Center, a $112 million, environmentally sustainable building set to open on April 30. (Josh Cooper/The Daily Record.)

The final touches are being added to the new, $112 million John and Frances Angelos Law Center, which will open April 30 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.

Chairs were still wrapped in plastic, electric saws were whizzing through planks of maple and the smell of freshly painted stair railings floated through the 190,000 square-foot building on Monday.

“We can’t lose sight of the way architecture plays a part in the social fabric of the city,” said university President Robert L. Bogomolny. “Here in fact we have created visible sign of future potential.”

The building, which sits on less than an acre at the intersection of Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue, has six terraces, a library, student gathering places, a sprawling moot court room, classrooms and faculty offices. It will bring students, faculty, the law school’s clinics and its programs all under one roof.

“This building is just energizing,” said UB Law Dean Ronald Weich. “You walk in and see colors, these greens and yellows.”

In the front atrium, strings of square lights fall from the upper floors and plants sprout up in dirt beds. A series of maple staircases wind through the building’s staggered floors. The color scheme is reinforced in the maple furniture with orange, red and yellow cushions.

The building’s floors and columns, however, are gray, unadorned concrete.

“It reflects the real world we live in and the world in which students will practice law,” Weich said. “It’s raw material. It’s from the streets.”

University administrators emphasized that the new building was not an “ivory tower” or a “fortress.” Administration offices will be on the seventh floor of the building, not at the top. The windowed walls symbolize transparency, they said.

“The law school should be accessible to all citizens,” Weich said. “This law school is open to and part of the community.”

There are 15 classrooms throughout the building, including four 75-seat and four 50-seat rooms. Weich said the new classrooms will move professors away from the podium and place an emphasis on technology, with teachers using tablets to project lessons onto the classroom walls.

“Technology is changing everything about this world,” Weich said. “This building emphasizes that change.”

Water slides down grey rock steps between the first and ground floor and there is a waterfall outside. A rainwater collection system gathers water from the roof into two below-ground tanks, which feed the water features.

Seeking LEED Platinum status

About 50 miles of piping heats and cools the building. Bogomolny said the school expects to save $400,000 a year in energy costs, but said he was not sure how much the school would save in water bills.

The law school is seeking a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. The platinum rating is the USGBC’s highest green design designation.

There are also rotating blinds on the double-layered windows, which open and close automatically as an electronic system gauges sunlight entering the building. Temperature sensors also control when windows are opened and closed.

Two glass elevators slide up and down the building. On the 12th floor there are reading rooms, and a terrace overlooking the city. There is a space for catering, and part of the university’s plan is to rent out rooms to outside companies or groups for events, said Neb Sertsu, associate vice president of the Department of Facilities Management and Capital Planning at the university.

The main entrance to the five-story library is on the seventh- floor. There are moveable study desks, and lockers with power outlets on the inside.

Sertsu called the sixth and seventh floors the “playground” of the building. A student lounge with a coffee bar and televisions are on the sixth floor.

A spiral staircase descends from the sixth to the first floor. A silver column inscribed with the names of the building’s major donors is the main support in the building, Sertsu said.

The fifth floor houses the law school’s programs like the Truancy Court Program and centers like the Center for Families, Children and the Courts, along with faculty offices. Offices have either a window to the outside or a window to the inside of the structure.

Sertsu said there was a lot of jockeying and chatter among professors about which offices they would move into. The most senior faculty got first choice, Sertsu said.

There is a 100-seat classroom on the building’s second floor. The enrollment admissions and law career development offices share the first floor with seminar rooms.

The new moot court room, with red seating, bamboo floors and a bright yellow accent wall, is underground, along with practice moot court rooms and counsel rooms. There are also four green-tiled individual showers for those who bike or run to the law school.

The law school will open in the midst of changing times at the university. Weich started in July, taking over for Phillip J. Closius, who left abruptly in July 2011, claiming too much of the law school funds went to the university.

The school also fell 21 spots in the U.S. News & World Report rankings last month, the sixth biggest drop in the country.

Weich has said he plans to admit a smaller class in the upcoming year in an effort to bring in a higher concentration of students with better GPAs and LSAT scores. He has also said he is not worried about the rankings and expects them to go up in the future.

“It’s all about looking over the horizon and not just until the next day,” Weich told students and faculty during a town hall meeting in September.

Architect Stefan Behnisch, of Behnisch Architekten in Stuttgart, Germany along with Baltimore’s Ayers Saint Gross, won a design competition to design the law center in 2008.

About $22 million of the building’s funds came from private donations, $15 million of which were given by Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos of The Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos in Baltimore. The new building, which, like its predecessor, is named for Angelos’ parents, broke ground in August 2010.

The university will host a preview celebration for the new center with Vice President Joe Biden and Gov. Martin O’Malley April 16.