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Sale of Towson president's mansion to go before board next week

The Guilford mansion that cost a former Towson University president his job is expected to be sold to a private buyer next week, closing a controversial chapter in the college's history.

It has been at least six months since the elevator in the 8,000-square-foot home on Greenway has rumbled to life. Guests have not been regaled under the chandelier. The $25,000 multimedia system, with a high-definition television and interactive sound system, hasn't entertained.

Now officials are drawing up a contract to be submitted to the Maryland Board of Public Works for a vote Wednesday, authorizing the sale of the house for $1.05 million to an IT professional and his family. It would be sold at a loss, considering the 2001 purchase price and the cost of subsequent upgrades, but university officials say they need to move on.

Towson University President Maravene Loeschke has moved to a private residence closer to campus. She said she wanted to be nearer to the community, and she believes there are venues on campus that are more appropriate than the president's mansion for entertaining important guests.

"It was time to move ahead and move forward," said Joe Oster, Towson's vice president for administration and finance.

The university bought the house at 3903 Greenway in 2001 to give then-President Mark L. Perkins a place to entertain donors and guests. Built in 1926, the house has six bedrooms and five bathrooms.

The property was assessed at about $510,000; the university paid $850,000. After the sale, officials discovered it needed lead paint and asbestos abatement, termite removal, and repair to some walls and floors.

Perkins drew criticism for what some said was lavish spending on the house, including an $80,000 elevator from the basement to the third floor. His predecessor, Hoke L. Smith, lived in a modest apartment on campus during his 22-year tenure.

An audit ordered by the university system found that Towson spent nearly $1 million in repairs and upgrades. The University System of Maryland Board of Regents pressured Perkins to resign after less than a year on the job. He received a $400,000 severance package.

Hugh Bethell, the prospective buyer, said he isn't thinking much about the house's past.

"It's a magnificent house — just architecturally, it's fantastic," said Bethell, who is a board member at the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance. "There's not a lot that I plan on changing. People clearly had good taste and excellent execution."

When Bethell moved to Baltimore 15 years ago, he drove down Greenway, a well-appointed street in the Guilford neighborhood.

"I thought, 'Wow, this is the street I want to live on,' " he said.

University officials say the property has cost tens of thousands a year to maintain, and estimated repairs and upkeep over the next five years would cost another $700,000.

Officials said some neighbors have not appreciated the large events the university has held in their midst. Robert Caret, the president between Perkins and Loeschke, entertained there for about a decade.

Towson alumnus David Nevins, who served on the Board of Regents when the university bought the house, said selling it now "makes perfect sense."

"The house, which worked great for Bob Caret, isn't so much Maravene's thing," he said.

Of selling at a loss, he said, "It is what it is.

"The loss didn't come today. The loss came 15 years ago."

Two recent appraisals commissioned by Towson University valued the house at $1.15 million and $1.05 million.

Oster said the university never had to list the house for sale because prospective buyers began making inquiries after news broke that the college wanted to part with it.

Bethell was the buyer who "stayed until the end," he said.

When the sale is complete, Loeschke is to receive a $35,000 annual housing stipend offered by the state college system.

For entertaining, the university plans to use the Towson University Marriott, the University Union, the West Village Commons, and other facilities.

Bethell, who lives in Federal Hill, said his family is "really eager for the opportunity to move into the neighborhood."

"Given some of the tensions between Towson and the neighborhood, I think the neighborhood will welcome having a normal family again," Bethell said.

The house is "a little more formal than the typical family home would be," he said, "but I have kids and I'm sure they'll reduce the formality."

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