Gov. Larry Hogan visited Stevenson University in Owings Mills Thursday to mark the planned transfer of the state-owned Rosewood Center property to the growing school.
"It's been a long time coming," Hogan told Stevenson employees and students who gathered on campus to celebrate the deal, which will nearly double the university's acreage.
Stevenson, which has about 4,100 students, has long sought to acquire the former state mental health facility for its expansion. Last month, the governor and other members of the state's Board of Public Works approved sale of the 117-acre site to the school for $1.
University president Elliot Hirshman — who was named Stevenson's seventh president in March and started his job this week — said demolition and environmental remediation at the Rosewood site will be the top priority over the next two years.
Issues include toxins in the soil and asbestos and lead-based paint in buildings. Stevenson plans to use $16 million in state grants for the environmental clean-up.
Detailed plans for how the property will be used have not been announced, but Hirshman said once demolition and remediation is complete, "the next thing that we'll begin to look at ... is a series of athletic facilities that our students could use, but that would also be available for community usage."
State Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Democrat whose district includes Owings Mills, praised the land transfer as a bipartisan effort. He said the first time he met with the Republican governor, Hogan "committed to me that he would get this ball across the goal line."
"And we're across the goal line," Zirkin said to applause.
The state closed Rosewood in 2009, and the property was declared surplus the following year.
Founded in 1888 as the Maryland Asylum and Training School for the Feeble Minded, it was later renamed the Rosewood Center. It became known for poor treatment of patients and substandard conditions.
In a statement Thursday, the Arc Maryland said the sale "re-opens questions about the dark history of segregation and fairness to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities."
The organization called upon Stevenson to improve "inclusive opportunities," suggesting scholarships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and adoption of a curriculum on the history and rights of this population.
The Arc, which advocates for people with such disabilities, also said it has filed a public information request with the state to obtain documents about the environmental cleanup plans, but has not received answers.
University spokesman John Buettner said in an e-mail to The Baltimore Sun that school officials are sensitive to Rosewood's history.
"Obviously, we are at the very beginning of our stewardship of this property and will continue to dialog with community partners and organizations as we consider possible uses for the site," he said. "But first, we need to focus on the clean-up of the property over the next two years."
Buettner said Stevenson's bachelor's in public history program plans to make the history of Rosewood "a major research effort by its students and faculty."
"The guiding question is: 'What does Rosewood's history tell us about society's ability to support those entrusted to our care?'" he said.