There’s one woman leading Morgan State University’s building boom. Her name is Kim McCalla.

For 15 years, McCalla has served as the historically Black university’s associate vice president of facilities, design and construction management. She’s overseen the completion of newly built multimillion-dollar academic buildings, a student services and administrative hall and a 670-bed student housing complex with a dining hall attached.

Her plans for the university don’t stop there. A second 600-bed housing facility will be built adjacent to the first. A new health and human services academic building and a three-story police and public safety headquarters are also in the works.

“I may not be able to teach, I may not be able to help a student, but I can give Morgan a great place to live, learn and play where people will become envious,” McCalla said. “I want people to want to come here because of the spaces that we have, and that’s been Design and Construction’s mission – to give the best facilities that we could possibly give and have us compete with everybody else, physically.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

McCalla, a New York native, came to Maryland 40 years ago after studying civil engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. She’s worked on projects across the state, including the demolition of Memorial Stadium, the renovation of Camden Yards Station and the expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center. Exhibits at Baltimore’s National Aquarium and redesigned stadiums at Maryland and Towson universities are also part of her repertoire.

Her work at Morgan State aligns with her childhood dream of “making a city sparkle,” she said. In 2016, the university was designated a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. McCalla doesn’t find the designation intimidating. It’s a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to live her dream, she said.

The Baltimore Banner asked McCalla about the university’s procurement, design and construction process as Morgan continues to grow. Her responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

What does it take for a new building to be erected on Morgan’s campus?

The process is long. We have to put together a campus master plan, which guides and states what buildings are needed, whether new or renovated, the order of importance that they should go and the proximate locations of where they should or want to be on campus.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

We have to then submit to the state for approval programs, which are detailed descriptions of the evaluation of an existing building and why we cannot renovate it. Or, if we can renovate it, how we’re going to renovate it.

And then we put together a detailed program for a new building. We justify why we need the building with inch-thick descriptions of what we need for the project. Once the state legislature approves that, we write a Part 2 for the project, which then details every nook and cranny of the building – like what type of spaces the building will be used for, the occupancy of the space, the equipment that we want to go in the space, the furniture and the finishes.

We use that information to give to the architects, and they base their proposals off of what is included. During this process, the state plans at least five years financially ahead of time, so our projects are funded over a four- to five-year period, depending on the size of it. We start designing or building once the state legislature offers their vote of approval [and] we know the project is going to continue.

The exterior of Morgan State University’s Tyler Hall. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Can you describe the intricacies of the design process?

I’m not the designer. The architectural team designs it. But if there’s something I don’t like, or I don’t think is working well for the university, you’ll see sketches in my office trying to convey this. Lots of times, I take their designs and I make some changes to it and send it back to them. Sometimes, it involves me grabbing the color chart and finding approximate colors that I think would look good on the building.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Sometimes, the different firms are missing the tone of Morgan and not developing our essence. And it is very key to nail down, especially with our new buildings. We work very hard to make sure there’s always something passing through from the traditional side to the new. So it always looks like it belongs together no matter how futuristic it looks. It has to blend in with the rest of campus, even though they are designed and built by different architects.

How important is to incorporate historical elements since the university became a National Treasure in 2016?

This is all about understanding and reusing what we already have. Morgan sits on a huge rock quarry. We’re trying to bring the tradition along into the new. So, there’s a lot of stone underneath us. And, when we find decent chunks of it, we try to use them as landscaping features around campus.

There’s no better way to preserve the history and promote the history and expose the history without really costing us much. Otherwise, we would’ve thrown it out and gotten rid of it somewhere.

So again, it’s our way of recycling, salvaging a lot of the big stones for buildings that we’re creating anew. We pick them up and move them around as architectural features or landscape features across campus.

Penelope Blackwell is a Breaking News/Accountability reporter with The Banner. Previously, she covered local government in Durham, NC, for The News & Observer. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Morgan State University and her master’s in journalism from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. 

More From The Banner