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Baltimore City

Morgan State University will develop satellite campus at former Lake Clifton High School

Morgan State University has entered an agreement with the city of Baltimore to take over the former Lake Clifton High School, spending $200 million to transform it into a satellite campus.

Morgan president David K. Wilson called the agreement with the city “an important step in what will be a monumental advancement in Morgan’s history.” The new campus will allow the historically Black Morgan State to “expand our footprint and our access to the communities we serve.”

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Under an agreement with the city’s department of real estate, Morgan State will pay around $94,000 for the property, an amount that covers a bond debt owed to Maryland. Unloading the property will save the city more than $700,000 per year in maintenance and security costs.

The agreement will go before the city’s Board of Estimates next Wednesday at City Hall, during which Wilson will share more details about the project.

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Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and state Senator Cory V. McCray, who advocated for the project, said in a statement the sale would be a boost for nearby neighborhoods including Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello, Darley Park, South Clifton Park, and Belair Edison.

News of the agreement comes nearly two years after Baltimore officials first made public plans to the sprawling school site, as well as the nearby Lake Clifton Gate House, a stone Victorian structure on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the time, Morgan State University officials expressed interest in purchasing the property but declined to share their ideas for the site, a few miles south of their campus in Northeast Baltimore.

According to a release put out by Morgan State Friday, the school will invest a minimum $200 million during a 15-to-20-year period to redevelop the 59-acre property, which includes the former Lake Clifton High School building and a historic valve house.

Renovations will include demolishing the former school while restoring five public artworks installed on its campus. Developers will also build a convocation center and relocate a basketball court to make it more accessible. Long-term plans include academic buildings, athletic fields, a wellness center and housing.

In addition, developers must stabilize the valve house, which dates back to the 1800s, when Lake Clifton was a city reservoir located on the former summer estate of Johns Hopkins. The reservoir was drained in 1968 and filled in to become the site of the high school.

Baltimore, which is home to some of the oldest education infrastructure in the state, has closed around two dozen school buildings as part of its $1 billion 21st Century Schools Buildings Plan. Shutting down and selling older buildings allows the district to channel resources to fixing fewer crumbling schools.

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Though Baltimore’s school system was designed to serve over 100,000 kids, enrollment fell to 77,856 students in the 2020-21 school year. Many of the shuttered schools were far too large for the number of students enrolled.

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When it opened in 1971, Lake Clifton was the biggest high school in Baltimore and its most modern building. In more recent years, the building housed several smaller schools.

In 2003, Baltimore’s school board proposed closing Lake Clifton for good. Staff reported that the building, atop a filled-in reservoir, appeared to be sinking each year.

From the city’s perspective, maintaining vacant school buildings is a costly affair. Finding the right buyer can be tricky.

Baltimore Comptroller Bill Henry, whose office oversees the department of real estate, called Morgan State “the perfect partner” in the project.

Over the next 10 years, Maryland’s four Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Morgan State, are set to receive a $577 million settlement from the state following 13-year-old lawsuit. Morgan alums filed the suit in 2006, arguing that underfunding had starved HBCUs of benefits enjoyed by the state’s predominantly white universities.

In 2020, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who co-founded Amazon with ex-husband Jeff Bezos, gave the Morgan State $40 million, the largest donation in school history. In 2021, Calvin E. Tyler Jr. and his wife, Tina, pledged $15 million to assist students struggling to pay for their education.


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