Private schools find a market for excess land Many are selling unneeded acreage to raise needed cash

'Only resource we have'

But neighbors worry that development will alter natural beauty

March 31, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

To the dismay of its neighbors, St. Timothy's School is considering selling 75 acres of its wooded, rolling campus -- crisscrossed with horse trails and a haven for deer and owls -- for a pricey, 64-house development.

The plan has stirred up the residents whose property adjoins and overlooks the 234-acre campus that stretches along Greenspring Avenue in Stevenson.

But officials at the 93-student girls' boarding and day school say the sale is part of a broader plan to enrich its $6.6 million endowment and ensure its prosperity well into the next century. And St. Timothy's is not the only area private school to seek to convert an extraneous asset such as land into an essential one -- cash.

"It's often a consequence of long-range thinking, and other things are more important to us" than land, said Sarah Donnelly, executive director of the Association of Independent Maryland Schools.

"Land is very important, but the mission of these schools is to educate young people to prepare these kids for a life," said D. Terrence MacHamer, who oversees a McDonogh School project that includes a business park next to the Owings Mills campus.

McDonogh, a coeducational private school, got into the development business about 10 years ago, when trustees set aside 200 acres of the campus for a business park. Although an unusual move for a prep school, the idea was to control nearby development and buffer the remaining 600 acres of campus from unsightly buildings -- while building the school's endowment. School officials say, however, that McDonogh has not seen much profit.

Unlike St. Timothy's and McDonogh, Maryvale Preparatory School will not benefit directly from the pending sale of 75 acres adjacent to its Falls Road campus. The congregation of sisters who founded the girls school 50 years ago has many elderly sisters who need care, "and the only resource we have is land," said Sister Marie Kelly, provincial moderator of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

Of the land around Maryvale, the school leases more than 50 acres from the sisters, 60 acres are zoned for preservation and the rest will be sold.

MacKenzie/O'Conor, Piper and Flynn Commercial Real Estate Services is marketing and developing the land -- along Falls Road and Saters Lane -- into West-wicke, 29 lots that cost from $200,000 to $395,000, said the real estate firm's executive vice president, Robert J. Aumiller.

At St. Timothy's, officials have not said how much might be raised from the proposed land sale, but Headmistress Deborah M. Cook vows that profits will go into the 114-year-old high school's endowment.

"I think all independent schools, just are all corporations, are forced to evaluate what they have and how much they need," Ms. Cook said. "Most schools are considering increasing their endowment because they are seeing the need -- just for technology."

She said none of the profits would be used for operating expenses, which generally are covered by tuition and donations. The school charges tuition of $11,600 for day students; $21,300 for boarders.

Schools usually use the interest from endowments to award scholarships, control tuition and provide programs they otherwise could not afford.

A sale of St. Timothy's land still would be a year away, and area residents hope the school will alter a plan put forth when the school unveiled the project.

It calls for 64 houses to be built on an L-shaped parcel that extends west from Greenspring Avenue, north of Woodvalley Drive. The land is woods and fields -- the site of St. Timothy's equestrian trail; a Native American campsite established by Irvine Natural Science Center, which adjoins the school; and the route of the nature center's bird walks, owl prowls and deer watches.

The school uses about 60 acres clustered at the other end of the acreage, closer to Greenspring and Hillside Road. A buffer of woods would remain on two sides of the school's land, even after development. In some areas, however, the proposed homes would back onto neighbors' lots that now overlook woods and open space.

"The community is totally concerned," said Amy Kahn, who lives across Greenspring from the school.

"There are those who say, 'Hey, it's progress,' but the majority are very upset," she said.

Among the concerns are environmental implications, increased traffic and the effect on already crowded public schools.

About one-third of the programs at the science center would be affected by the land sale, Executive Director W. T. Dixon Gibbs said. Once a part of St. Timothy's, the center rents its buildings from the school at less than market value and uses the open land for its summer camp and other projects.

The center, Mr. Gibbs said, has been evaluating the impact and considering options such as moving, consolidating programs and raising money to buy some of the land proposed for development.

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