Towson University took a big step this week in modernizing its science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning, while the state’s transportation secretary fell into some hot water over ethics issues concerning one of his former employers.
Higher education writer Tim Curtis reported Tuesday that Towson University broke ground on a new $180 million science facility, which will be the largest building on the campus and take a prominent position along York Road.
The university expects the building to be completed by August 2020, when it will replace the 53-year-old Smith Hall as the primary science building with 50 teaching labs, 30 research labs, 50 classrooms, 10 collaborative student spaces, eight lecture halls and an outdoor classroom.
The new building reflects the significant growth of the university’s Jess and Mildred Fisher College of Science and Mathematics since Smith Hall’s opening in 1965. At that time, the university’s total enrollment was less than 4,000 students; The Fisher College now has more than 4,000 students on its own.
Meanwhile, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn spent the better part of the week answering questions concerning his handling of a process that resulted in one of his former employers being recommended to get a nearly $69 million state contract.
Government affairs writer Bryan P. Sears reported Monday that a consortium led by HNTB, a Kansas City, Missouri-based company that Rahn had worked for previously, was in line to win a consulting contract with the state to oversee a proposed $7.6 billion public-private partnership to relieve congestion on Interstates 270 and 495. The consulting contract was awarded through a waiver of the state’s traditional competitive bid process, which was authorized by Rahn, allowing the department to move faster on projects deemed to require an alternative approach.
Sears wrote Rahn had a private dinner with an HNTB executive and advised him to “think big” on the company’s proposal for a multi-year, multimillion-dollar project that state officials were to award weeks later. The meal also occurred weeks before Rahn personally sought an ethics ruling on his participation in the awarding of that contract, a request Rahn made only after transportation officials already had awarded the job to HNTB.
Rahn said an opinion from the Maryland State Ethics Commission two weeks ago vindicated his involvement, and he dismissed concerns about appearances of a conflict of interest. He also added there have been no protests from unsuccessful bidders.
On Tuesday, Sears reported the contract was pulled from the schedule of the Board of Public Works, which must approve it, amid questions about Rahn’s relationship with HNTB and his handling of the bidding process. Sears also reported that while Rahn said in an interview he had sold his shares of stock in HNTB, state financial disclosure reports filed by Rahn did not list either the ownership or the sale of the stock.
On Thursday, Rahn said he will amend his state financial disclosure filings to include those transactions.
The saga took another turn late Friday afternoon when Gov. Larry Hogan ordered Rahn to seek a new contract for the project, saying the contract that was put on hold lacked public transparency.
The governor sent a letter to Rahn saying questions about the never-before-used waiver process necessitated a new contract. Hogan further ordered Rahn to work closely with the board as the new contract is bid.
Rahn then issued a statement acknowledging the concerns over his involvement s would give rise to questions, he stressed everything that was done during this process was consistent with state law as well as policies and procedures governing this type of procurement.