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Stevenson University President Kevin Manning, shown at the Owings Mills campus, has presided over the school’s dramatic growth. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Rosewood campus in sight, Stevenson says

But state taciturn on university expansion plan

Stevenson University has had its eye on the state-owned Rosewood Center, a property east of the school’s Owings Mills campus, for half a decade.

Despite an apparent consensus that the former psychiatric complex would do better in Stevenson’s hands, reaching a deal has proved an arduous task. Negotiations have been essentially stalled since January 2010, when the state Board of Public Works approved a sale of the land to the small-but-growing university.

The lack of progress has long been in a thorn in university President Kevin Manning’s side, but the stalemate may soon be over.

Manning said in an interview last week that he expects to reach a deal, and bring it before the Board of Public Works for a vote, within six weeks.

Manning, who has been president since 2000 and has led the school through a decade of explosive growth, was confident in his assertion that “we expect the whole transaction will be completed soon,” perhaps before the New Year.

But not so fast, state officials said.

“No, I would not agree with that at all,” said Michael Gaines, assistant secretary of real estate for the state Department of General Services, when asked if Manning’s estimate is on target.

“Right now it’s uncertain when we would get before the Board of Public Works,” Gaines said. “We hope to conclude the discussion soon, but we do not have a timeline at this point.”

Gaines would not share any details about the ongoing negotiations, and Manning said he didn’t know — or wouldn’t disclose — any details of the transaction, such as whether the state plans to cover some or all of the costs of cleaning up asbestos, lead and other hazardous materials left behind on the property.

“We know our interests and we know the state’s interests, but we don’t know the details,” Manning said.

Lawyers for the state have been working closely for the past three months with Stevenson’s attorneys, Manning said, adding that opening those talks was the only progress of the past few years.

So, why the sudden movement? Some outsiders have speculated that either the state or the university — perhaps both — is pushing to get a deal done before Gov.-elect Larry Hogan takes office on Jan. 21.

Manning’s take? He’s just happy to report progress.

“These things take time,” he said. “The state tends to take a long time to work out these kinds of details. You have to be patient.”

Stevenson would like to build athletic fields and academic buildings on a portion of the 178-acre Rosewood property. University spokesman John Buettner said Stevenson would like to acquire only 120 acres, an estimate that has shrunk over the years.

Stevenson’s three campuses together total 168 acres. With the Rosewood acquisition, the university’s footprint would nearly double.

Some buildings in the Rosewood complex would be demolished, but one 80,000-square-foot facility would likely be converted in the home for a new academic school or an existing school within the university, Manning said.

One of the biggest hurdles is determining who will pay to clean up the property. In addition to asbestos and lead in the buildings, there are leaking oil tanks above and below ground and deposits of toxic chemicals (left behind from years of dumping coal ash) to deal with.

Additionally, Stevenson has been working with community groups to ensure any new development wouldn’t exacerbate traffic.

Tom Finnerty, president of the Greater Greenspring Association, said his group still supports Stevenson’s plans.

“They’ve done a great job working with us over the years and we think this is the best option out there [for the Rosewood property],” Finnerty said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for them and it works out well for the county and the community.”

Rewind back to 2009, when the state closed the last of Rosewood’s facilities and when Stevenson first indicated interest in the property. At that time, it had only been about a year since the school’s Board of Trustees voted to change the name of the institution from Villa Julie College to Stevenson University.

In the years since, Stevenson has grown significantly — in its physical footprint, in enrollment and in prestige. The institution’s focus shifted from the original Greenspring campus on Greenspring Valley Road to the Owings Mills campus, which opened in 2004 with residence halls and gradually added academic buildings and other facilities.

About 3,200 full-time students enrolled this year, twice as many as in 2001.

In 2009, Manning approved the University Restructuring Plan, which divided the (newly named) Villa Julie College of Arts and Sciences into three schools. The following year, a 60,000-square-foot gymnasium opened on the Owings Mills campus, and several new academic programs were introduced, including a bachelor’s degree in forensic studies and a master’s in nursing.

In 2011, a 3,500-seat stadium opened on the Owings Mills campus, and Stevenson’s first Division III football team debuted.

Then, Stevenson expanded its footprint again, opening the 27-acre Owings Mills North campus about a mile up the road. The School of Design — with a gallery space, sound stage and classrooms for visual communication design and film/video students — opens there in 2013.

A second building, the 150,000-square-foot School of the Sciences, is now under construction at Owings Mills North, and is scheduled to open in less than two years.

Manning said he hopes to construct a lighted pedestrian pathway connecting the Owings Mills campus to Owings Mills North. Currently, university buses shuttle students back and forth via Owings Mills Boulevard. The pedestrian walkway would cut through what is now a wooded area.

The walkway would make the university’s Owings Mills footprint more cohesive, at least to the north. To the east, the Rosewood property still beckons, untouched. Manning’s eagerness to conquer that frontier is obvious, but he’s learned to wait.

“These things take time,” he said. “You have to be patient.”