State plans to sell former Rosewood hospital to Stevenson University

State officials plan to turn over 117 acres of the former Rosewood Center to Stevenson University, which wants to use the abandoned property to continue its expansion in Owings Mills.

The Board of Public Works is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a proposal to sell the land — site of an institution for the developmentally disabled until 2009 — to Stevenson for $1. The state also would spend millions of dollars to clean up environmental problems on the site.

The agreement, if approved, would double the footprint of Stevenson, which has grown from a small, mostly commuter school once known as Villa Julie College into a 4,100-student, multicampus university with student dorms, athletic teams and a rising reputation.

Officials with the private university were reluctant to discuss their plans in advance of the vote. But spokesman John Buettner said in a statement that tentative plans include "developing new educational facilities and recreational resources on the property for our students and the community."

The board — which includes Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp — will vote on a deal that would commit the state to giving Stevenson $16 million over three years to help with the cleanup cost.

Stevenson has until fall 2019 to clean up the site to the satisfaction of the Maryland Department of the Environment. After the clean-up is complete, the sale will be finalized.

The deed agreement would require Stevenson to use the property for educational purposes for at least 15 years. Stevenson has agreed to spend at least $20 million on capital improvements to the property.

According to the state Department of General Services, the deal is justified because the Rosewood site now "represents a blighted area and a nuisance" and has been the site of vandalism and other crimes. The department said the state has spent $17 million to maintain the property since 2010.

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who represents the area, has worked with state and university officials for years on the land deal. The negotiations have spanned multiple gubernatorial administrations, and Zirkin praised Hogan, a Republican, for securing the final deal. Stevenson first expressed interest in the Rosewood property in 2000, when Democrat Parris N. Glendening was governor.

"Rosewood has been an enormous problem for decades and Stevenson has stepped up to solve it," Zirkin said. "It's finally happening."

He said Rosewood's fate has been one of the most important — and at times contentious — local issues during his 18 years in public office. Zirkin's mother is an associate dean at Stevenson, but he said his work on the issue began before she worked there.

When Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration declared the land "surplus" in 2010, the Board of Public Works agreed to negotiate only with Stevenson, which officials said was the most viable candidate to take over the property, partly since it backs up to the Owings Mills campus.

"Nobody would touch this and for good reason," Zirkin said. "This is not going to be an overnight fix and it's going to take a lot of work."

Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond has pushed to sell the land to Stevenson since she was a community activist. Almond was elected to office in 2010.

"I worked with my community in asking them to write letters to make sure that Stevenson got it because I knew they'd be good stewards of the land," said Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat who also worked for many years at a church adjacent to Rosewood.

Almond said neighbors were worried that the Rosewood land would be turned over to private development. Stevenson, she said, is a much better option.

"It was very sad to see it deteriorate as it did, but I think this is going to bring new life to the area," she said.

The Rosewood property once spanned 276 acres. It is now 178 acres — some parcels already have been transferred to new owners.

Baltimore County, for example, owns 16.3 acres of the former Rosewood site. The county's Department of Health and Human Services uses one of the buildings for offices, and the county leases about 1.5 acres to the Torah Institute of Baltimore, which uses a ballfield and multipurpose court.

Stevenson is obtaining 117 acres, which include 17 dilapidated buildings that are expected to be demolished.

The Rosewood campus has a variety of environmental and health challenges, according to a 2009 consultant's report, including lead-based paint and materials containing asbestos in many of the buildings, as well as several underground and above-ground storage tanks for oil, gas and diesel fuel.

Rosewood was founded in 1888 as the Maryland Asylum and Training School for the Feeble Minded. It later would be named the Rosewood State Training School and eventually the Rosewood Center.

The institution had a checkered history. The hospital was cited repeatedly for abuse and neglect of its patients. For decades in the early 20th century, it was used as a source of slave labor by Baltimore socialites who pressed female patients into unpaid domestic service with the help of lawyers.

The hospital once housed as many as 3,000 patients, but at the time of its closing the number had dwindled to 166. Those patients were placed elsewhere and the facility was closed.

Advocates for people with disabilities praised the closure of Rosewood, saying the facility was neglected and no longer useful for helping patients.

At times, police have used empty buildings at Rosewood for training exercises. In 2013, a University of Maryland campus police officer was shot in the head and critically injured by an instructor during a Baltimore Police Department training exercise that was later found to have been conducted without state authorization.

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