Baltimore’s Board of Estimates on Wednesday approved Morgan State University’s purchase of several land parcels including the former Lake Clifton High School where officials hope to build the university’s first modern satellite campus.
Morgan State officials pledged spending $200 million to convert three city-owned parcels of land into a new campus about a mile south of the university’s main campus that would expand its footprint in East Baltimore.
The parcels include more than 59 acres of the dilapidated high school’s campus, which was slated for closure in 2003. It also includes an historic valve house dating prior to the school’s opening in 1971, when the property was a city reservoir located on the former summer estate of Johns Hopkins. The parcels abut Clifton Park.
The pending sale will next head to the Morgan State Board of Regents and the Maryland Board of Public Works for final approval. Under the sale agreement, Morgan State will pay about $94,000 for the properties. The price tag covers a bond debt owed to the state, and the sale is expected to save the city more than $700,000 a year in maintenance and security costs.
These days the Lake Clifton property is mostly unused with the exception of student drivers practicing in the empty parking lots ahead of their license exam. The nonprofit Civic Works has converted a corner of the land into a small farm that provides fresh produce to surrounding neighborhoods, including Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello, Darley Park, South Clifton Park and Belair Edison.
“Lake Clifton was like the hole in the donut,” said Mark Washington, a community organizer in the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood. “It’s a rather large complex. We as a community knew we needed a very big player that would have a very big impact on the immediate area.”
Washington and other community activists say they worked to attract Morgan State to the area for some time. The university’s investment, they say, will beautify the space and bring economic development to nearby communities, which lack important resources such as pharmacies and affordable eateries.
“[Morgan State leaders] have a wonderful opportunity ahead of them to expand their campus, but also make a tremendous impact in challenged African American communities they’re moving into,” Washington said. “I’m looking forward to a wonderful engaged and involved planning process.”
The university also stands to benefit from the sale, Morgan State President David Wilson said. Morgan State has outgrown its existing land to the north and plans to expand onto the 70 acres over the next 15 to 20 years, he said. The university operated another satellite campus decades ago in Lynchburg, Virginia, but the building burned down in the mid-1900s and was never rebuilt.
“We literally have run out of space where we currently are located,” Wilson said. “The university is built on a quarry, and we are landlocked. And as a result, we have been looking around for appropriate places where we could expand without actually going too far.”
Wilson said the goal is to construct a multipurpose center to house a variety of academic programs within the next decade. He also hopes to create an arena space to fit around 10,000 attendees to host events like commencement.
In addition to academic buildings, Morgan State plans to build housing and retail options on the satellite campus, Wilson said. He said graduate students as well as faculty members have wanted the option to live closer to campus. Housing also would be available to alumni who wish to move back to their college campus.
No plans have been set for the historic valve building. There is potential for the satellite campus to include a business incubator, Wilson said. He hopes such facilities would help foster an “ecosystem of innovation” within the area.
The bottom line, Wilson said, remains working with the surrounding neighborhoods to uplift residents as the university rises. Beyond construction blueprints, Wilson said there also is a plan to transform nearby communities.
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Those plans thrill activists like Washington.
“Kids from these communities around that new college campus will have an opportunity to see a pathway to their future,” Washington said. “They’ll be able to go to elementary, middle, high school and college right in their own home.”
Civic Works representative John Ciekot said the nonprofit’s mission overlaps with that of the historically Black university.
“There are a lot of potentials here for synergistic improvements, for better lives for all involved,” Ciekot said. “If I sound positive, it’s because I feel positively.”
Civic Works officials expect the community farm on campus will be impacted by the development, but say they’ve had positive conversations with the university leaders on ways to accommodate the project.
“We intend to be a partner in the planning process,” Ciekot said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.
An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Morgan State Board of Regents. In addition, Morgan is purchasing 59 acres, not the amount previously listed. The Sun regrets the errors.