Marita Davison awoke one recent morning to a picturesque landscape. From her dormitory room at McDonogh School, she saw horses on a far-off, snow-covered hill. Icicles sparkled on corral fences and hardwood trees.
"It's like a fantasyland," Marita, a 16-year-old senior, said of the wintry scene. "Everyone here is really proud to have such a beautiful school."
For more than a century, a bucolic setting has helped form the Owings Mills school's identity. It is an important asset -- important enough to inspire McDonogh the prep school to become McDonogh the developer.
A decade ago, after Owings Mills was targeted by county officials as a major "growth area," McDonogh trustees set aside 200 acres of the campus to be developed as a business park -- an unusual move for such a school.
The plan: to control development in the school's back yard and to buffer the remaining 600 acres of campus from unsightly buildings.
Meanwhile, McDonogh officials hoped, the school's endowment would be enriched.
The result is the Owings Mills Corporate Campus. Its success was underscored recently when tenant T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. announced it was buying 33 acres from the school as part of a $50 million expansion.
"What's working out is really a validation of McDonogh's neighbor concept," said D. Terrence MacHamer, class of 1959 and the person who oversees the project for the school. "We have very good neighbors."
These are neighbors who invite the school's business students over for lectures on investment management.
Neighbors who turn their lobbies into galleries displaying the work of the school's art students.
And neighbors who talk glowingly of the parklike business campus.
"There isn't a visitor who comes in who doesn't comment on the beautiful setting," said John White, executive vice president of the Baltimore Life Insurance Co., a tenant of the corporate campus since 1992. The company's building is nestled among trees, overlooking a pond.
"That pond is a very important pond," McDonogh Headmaster W. Boulton "Bo" Dixon said, noting that it links the school and the corporate community.
While helping to create a pleasant setting for corporate employees, the pond is a sort of lab for McDonogh students. Each spring, students test their engineering and design skills at the pond by racing boats they have made from cardboard.
Established in 1873 as a semi-military school for poor boys in northwestern Baltimore County, McDonogh is now a coeducational private institution with 1,160 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. In addition to day students, the school has a small number of boarders.
A $6 million gift this year from the estate of devoted alumnus Clarence A. Burck increased the school's endowment to $31 million.
A decade ago, school officials hoped the development project would bolster the endowment, but the school has not yet received a significant return, said Mr. Dixon, who declined to give financial details of the project.
He blamed the real estate recession in the 1980s, but added, "The wise management of land resources will benefit us more in the future than it has up to this point."
The pressures that prompted the development plan began to form in the 1970s, when a new master plan for Baltimore County was taking shape. That plan -- which designated Owings Mills and White Marsh as the county's growth areas -- and an ill-fated proposal for a major shopping center at Reisterstown and McDonogh roads snapped school trustees to attention, Mr. MacHamer said.
But once school officials decided to get into the development business, they could find no other prep schools that had taken a similar course. So, they turned for inspiration to Princeton University, which had developed 1,600 acres of its land as office and research space.
For the project, McDonogh set aside fields and woods on its northwest corner, which is bordered by Painters Mill Road, and built a multimillion-dollar extension of Red Run Boulevard.
County Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller III commends bTC McDonogh for developing a business park that complements the school's campus.
"Here, we had the private sector take the lead. We didn't say, 'You've got to use red brick,' or 'You've got to have a median in the roadways,' " Mr. Keller said. "My hat's off to them. These people definitely took the high road."
Tenants include Baltimore Life, Manekin Corp., the Greater Baltimore Medical Center Physicians Pavilion and Integrated Health Services Inc.
Selling 30 acres
Although the school leases land for the park, it has agreed to sell more than 30 acres farther south at Painters Mill and Lyons Mill roads to T. Rowe Price for an undisclosed amount. The investment firm has said it plans to construct five office buildings there, development that could provide as many as 1,000 new jobs.
Andrew C. Goresh, vice president for human resources and administrative services at T. Rowe Price, said the nearby Metro station and the surrounding road network were reasons to expand in Owings Mills.
The campus setting presents an image that helps to recruit employees and to impress clients, he added.
"It has the sort of corporate image we were hoping for," he said.
McDonogh's original plans were for a park with 3.2 million square feet of office space, but Mr. MacHamer said environmental concerns have prompted the school to scale back plans. The park, which now has 440,000 square feet of office space on 35 acres, likely will contain no more than 1.5 million square feet of space in additional development phases.