A divided Board of Public Works gave wrecking crews the green light Wednesday to demolish the 55-year-old home of the president of the University of Maryland, College Park to make way for a $7.2 million building that will serve as a residence and a location for large events.
The board voted 2-1 to allow the College Park Foundation to move forward with its plans to replace the home, with Comptroller Peter Franchot opposed. Foundation officials contend that the existing 1956 structure is obsolete, hasn't been renovated since 1991 and could not meet contemporary building or safety codes.
Franchot contended that the current residence is a "beautiful building" that is much newer than the homes where many Marylanders live. He said the proposal was emblematic of a "disposable" society and comes as the university has been eliminating athletic programs for lack of funds.
"It doesn't strike me as a paramount priority," he said. "It doesn't look good."
But Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, sitting in for Gov. Martin O'Malley, and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp said they were influenced by the fact that foundation dollars raised from private donors — rather than state money — would be used for the project.
According to a university official, 4,000 square feet of the new 14,000-square-foot University House will be used for a separate private residence for the president. The rest will be used for hosting university events. The project is expected to be completed this year.
The Maryland Historical Trust found that the demolition "will have no adverse effect on historic properties, including archaeological sites," according to a Board of Public Works document.
Brodie Remington, president of the foundation, told the board the new University House will bring a "considerable return on investment" in the form of increased gifts to the school, including to athletic teams. He said the foundation determined it would cost as much to renovate the existing building as to raze it and build a new house adjacent to the current site.
Among other problems, Remington said, is that the old house does not comply with disability-access standards, lacks a fire sprinkler system and contains hazardous asbestos. While former UM President C.D. "Dan" Mote lived at the residence, current President Wallace D. Loh has been living in his own purchased home near campus.
Remington said that any time events with more than 50 people were held at the current building, officials had to rent tents to accommodate the crowds.
"So in order to avoid tents, we're going to pay to demolish the mansion?" Franchot asked.
The comptroller, who is believed to be considering a 2014 run for governor, has in recent months raised objections to several expenditures that he has contended are wasteful at a time when the economy has been putting a squeeze on the state budget. In November, he voted against the $553,264 purchase of 32 Steinway-designed pianos for a performing arts center at Bowie State University, saying that the school could have made do with less expensive models.