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Stevenson completes 17-year effort to acquire 117 acres at Rosewood

Stevenson University in Owings Mills completed a 17-year effort Wednesday as it won final approval of a deal for the state to transfer 117 acres of the former Rosewood Center to the school for its future expansion.

The Board of Public Works unanimously approved the sale of most of the grounds of the longtime institution for the developmentally disabled for $1.

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The board's three members — Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp — acted after hearing pleas from advocates for the disabled that they not be forgotten as the university moves forward with plans to redevelop a site where generations of developmentally disabled residents were housed and in many cases neglected or even abused.

The university will be responsible for environmental remediation at the site, but the state will kick in $16 million over three years under the agreement for the cleanup of what the state Department of General Services called "a blighted area and a nuisance."

Kevin Manning, the university president emeritus who led the acquisition effort since the school first expressed interest in the property in 2000, said the redevelopment will be about a decade-long process. He said the deal is the "culmination of all we've done" over 17 years.

Rosewood has been closed since 2009 and most of its buildings are in disrepair. The state has paid at least $17 million to maintain and secure the 178-acre site since 2010. The acreage Stevenson will acquire includes 17 dilapidated buildings that are expected to be razed. Other parcels already had been sold.

The agreement will roughly double the footprint of Stevenson, a private, independent university that has grown from a mostly commuter school known as Villa Julie College into a 4,100-student university with undergraduate and graduate programs.

Stevenson has committed to spend at least $20 million on capital improvements to the acquired property. Precise plans have not been developed, school officials said.

Ken Capone, director of policy for the disability rights group People on the Go, made a plea from his wheelchair for Stevenson to honor Rosewood's history by including the developmentally disabled in its programs.

"We need more people with disabilities participating in post-secondary education," he said with the aid of a voice synthesizer.

Capone, who has cerebral palsy, urged Stevenson to create scholarships to help the disabled attend the university.

"If not for the developmentally disabled community, this opportunity would not exist for Stevenson expansion," he told the board.

Laura Carr, president-elect of The Arc Maryland, urged Stevenson to provide jobs and other opportunities for the developmentally disabled and to develop a history of Rosewood to be housed in the university's library. Rosewood was founded in 1888 as the Maryland Asylum and Training School for the Feeble Minded.

Carr said disability rights advocates haven't received any commitments from the university, but added that "both parties are open to discussion."

Manning said any plans for programs for the disabled would be the result of a collaborative process.

"I am confident that some of this can be realized," he said.

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State Sen. Bobby Zirkin led the Owings Mills area's General Assembly delegation in supporting the sale and thanked Hogan for completing the deal.

Zirkin, a Democrat, said he hopes to come up with a bond bill to finance construction of an appropriate monument to the former residents of the institution. The center was closed under the administration of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who was under pressure from disability rights advocates who objected to conditions there.

"The history of Rosewood should never be forgotten," Zirkin said. "The bad things that happened there should never be forgotten."

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