The 8,000-square-foot Guilford mansion owned by Towson University that provided posh housing for its president — and a headache for the institution — may be back on the market soon.
The university is seeking to put the president's house, located in Baltimore and more than four miles from campus, up for sale. The home led to a president's ouster shortly after the university purchased it more than a decade ago, and has cost the university tens of thousands of dollars a year to maintain.
Maravene Loeschke, now the university's president, wants to live closer to the campus in Baltimore County. And maintenance costs continue to mount; Towson estimates repairs and upkeep of the home at $700,000 over the next five years.
If the university's plan to sell is approved by state officials, Loeschke would look for a private home closer to Towson's campus and take a $35,000 annual housing stipend offered by the state college system.
The University System of Maryland Board of Regents is set to vote on the proposal this week. If approved, the state Board of Public Works would have to sign off on the plan and the property would go on the market next year.
The university bought the home in 2001 so then-President Mark L. Perkins could woo potential donors by entertaining them there. But when reports surfaced of Towson's lavish spending on the house — adding an elevator and a $25,000 entertainment system — amid a significant increase in tuition, he was forced to resign within a year of taking the job.
Towson spent nearly $2 million to buy the 1920s house, repair and furnish it. Last week, the house was assessed at $1.15 million, Loeschke's deputy chief of staff said, meaning that the university would likely sell it at a loss.
Still, some say the university would be better off ridding itself of the home and having Loeschke find a place closer to campus.
"They ought to sell it, frankly. The whole thing never made sense to me," said Jack Fruchtman, a political science professor at Towson and former president of the faculty senate who was critical of the spending in 2002. The university should "just grin and bear it, and get rid of it."
Towson is not the only state university to suffer controversy over a president's house. About two years ago, the University of Maryland, College Park came under fire for a $7.2 million plan to demolish and replace the president's house as the athletics program was being cut. That housing project was paid for through private donations.
Most state colleges in Maryland offer their presidents the $35,000 annual housing stipend.
Towson bought the mansion at 3903 Greenway for $850,000, though the property was then assessed at about $510,000. The university justified the extra expense to state officials by saying that the house was in excellent condition.
After the purchase, the university found termites and damage to floors and walls. The home required lead paint and asbestos abatement.
Perkins also faced criticism for putting in what were seen as unnecessary perks. An elevator from the basement to the third floor cost nearly $80,000. Towson spent $30,000 on rugs. Furniture cost $79,000.
The news outraged some at Towson, where Perkins' predecessor, Hoke L. Smith, lived in an apartment on campus during his 22-year tenure.
"At the time it was a big deal because of the cost involved and the spectacle that the then-president made over a presidential mansion, which didn't make sense to anybody," Fruchtman said.
An audit ordered by the university system found that Towson spent about $1 million in repairs and upgrades on the home. The spending cost Perkins his job, and he left with a $400,000 severance package about a month after the news broke.
Marina H. Cooper, Loeschke's deputy chief of staff, said in an email that the university has built or renovated many venues that could be used to entertain guests in the 12 years since it bought the Guilford house. They include a new 14,000-square-foot conference center, the West Village Commons and the Center for Fine Arts building.
"We see this as an opportunity to capitalize on one of the best attributes of the Towson experience, the vitality of the campus," Cooper said. "Towson will now be able to showcase many of the facilities built in the last 10 years to host presidential and signature events — and use these venues in interesting and nontraditional ways."
The university also found the Guilford property expensive to maintain. The cost of upkeep is estimated at $70,000 a year for the next five years, with another $350,000 needed for long-term work on the roof, grounds and paint.
Cooper said a lot of the spending in the early 2000s was on items that didn't add much to the home's value — paint jobs, window treatments and decor.
Loeschke is also interested in living close to campus, she said.
"This is an opportunity to improve town-gown relations and enable the president to play an even greater role in the 7 day a week life on campus, and provide for even more interactions with students and members of our surrounding community," Cooper said.
The fact that Loeschke wanted to live on or near campus helped sway the search committee to hire her, said David Nevins, a Towson alum who served on the search committee. As president of Mansfield University in Pennsylvania, she told the committee she would leave a porch light on to indicate that students and faculty could drop in, Nevins said.
Nevins, who served on the Board of Regents at the time of the scandal over the president's house, said the Guilford house "should have never been purchased and never should have been improved to the extent it was." He added that it ultimately was put to good use under President Robert Caret, who succeeded Perkins and entertained there frequently.
Loeschke "has a different style," said Nevins, who supports the sale.
"Obviously there will be a loss taken, but the loss was taken 10 years ago when it was purchased and overly improved," he said.
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