In an effort to keep the historic institution up to date, Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital hopes to build a new in-patient hospital on its sprawling 100-acre campus in Towson.
As part of that move, Sheppard Pratt is seeking to rezone 38 acres, which would allow it to lease two 1891 Victorian-style inpatient buildings to non-hospital companies or organizations.
The proposal is the latest change for Sheppard Pratt, which in recent years has had to deal with the ever-evolving treatment of mental illness, cutbacks on insurance reimbursements and fewer residential patients.
Sheppard Pratt officials insisted yesterday that they are not trying to scale back operations and have no plans to sell the property.
"We have an eye on the future," said Holly Maddux Bartlett, a Sheppard Pratt spokeswoman. "We have no specific plans yet, but we are constantly assessing land use, and we have found that [the two inpatient] buildings are becoming obsolete.
"We are talking about building a hospital now because those buildings are old. There is no plan to sell the property."
It's unclear whether community residents will support the rezoning request by Sheppard Pratt, which has long been recognized as a stabilizing factor in the Towson area.
"It was met with a great degree of skepticism," said Susan Gray, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, which learned this week from the hospital of the rezoning request. "The residents asked things like, 'Why? What and when?' and there were no answers.
"They have no idea what they want to put there," Gray said. "It could be something completely benign and not cause a problem. On the other hand, it could obviously add more traffic congestion to the area."
Current zoning of the 38 acres where the Victorian structures are located allows the hospital to construct buildings for its use alone.
The hospital's rezoning request is part of Baltimore County's comprehensive zoning process, in which every four years, any resident, developer or property owner can seek to rezone any parcel. Deliberations will begin next year, with a final decision by the County Council in October.
The hospital began with a bequest from Quaker businessman Moses Sheppard in the mid-1850s. The hospital's name was changed in 1898 after Baltimore philanthropist Enoch Pratt, who also provided funds for the Enoch Pratt Free Library, left $1.6 million to the hospital with the stipulation that his name be included.
Sheppard Pratt occupies the former Mount Airy Farm, a property that includes the two Victorian structures known as A and B inpatient buildings. The two buildings have been used in recent years to house many of the hospital's 320 patients.
But with managed care, Bartlett said, the average inpatient stay is five days, in part because of advances in medication. Much of the hospital's care is handled through day hospitalizations and community supervised housing.
For this reason, Sheppard Pratt hired a consultant two years ago to advise it on a comprehensive land-use plan.
Previously, the not-for-profit hospital has leased 2 1/2 acres to neighboring Greater Baltimore Medical Center for an inpatient hospice facility.
It also turned over its indoor pool to a private company that sold swim memberships. In addition, the Forbush School for special education students opened new classrooms to accommodate a growing enrollment.
Bartlett said the study found that A and B buildings were quaint and historic but not modern enough to adequately handle future patient care.
She said there are no plans on how big a new hospital would be or where it would be built on the campus off Charles Street.
"We are considering the feasibility of a feasibility study for a hospital at this point," Bartlett said. Building a hospital "is not going to happen in the next year."