Construction of six apartment buildings for Towson University students has begun on the grounds of Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, ushering in a new era for the 110-year-old campus.
The $23 million project reflects a change in thinking at Sheppard Pratt, which has begun selling off pockets of its 100 acres for development.
In addition to the 13.7 acres where the luxury apartments will sit, the not-for-profit hospital on Charles Street recently sold 14.5 acres to GBMC Healthcare Inc., parent company of Greater Baltimore Medical Center, which plans to build a medical pavilion.
"We've had to look into our assets, and one of our assets is this beautiful land," said Dr. Steven S. Sharfstein, president and chief executive officer of Sheppard Pratt. "As beautiful as this campus is, we have to use the assets for the mission."
For six of the past eight years, Sheppard Pratt has finished its financial year with budget deficits of up to $1.3 million.
GBMC paid $1 million an acre for its property, and the student apartments will bring $500,000 annually to Sheppard Pratt through a land lease.
"To find this added revenue stream, such as student housing, is critical," Sharfstein said.
American Campus Communities, based in Austin, Texas, will develop and manage the 187 apartments, which will be known as University Village. The company, with assets of $330 million, manages 19 similar student communities across the nation.
The apartments will have one to four bedrooms and are expected to be ready by August. American Campus officials said rents have not been set.
At a luxury apartment complex operated by American Campus near Texas A&M University in College Station, students pay $1,000 to $1,470 a month, including a meal plan.
The Towson complex will include a swimming pool, a computer laboratory, a fitness center, tanning beds and a dry sauna, all with card-controlled access.
Two-thirds of Towson University's 16,000 students live off campus, and the new apartments will be welcome, university officials said.
"I have a feeling that there will be heavy competition for these rooms," said Towson spokeswoman Susanna Craine.
Development of the Sheppard Pratt campus saddens area preservationists such as Jeff Lees, an architect who used to teach a course in historic preservation at Goucher College.
"We're losing a cultural resource that has been intact for 110 years," Lees said of the parklike campus. "Once you change it, it's never going to be the same again."
A consolation, Sheppard Pratt officials say, is that the new apartments are designed to match the red-brick and arched-roof structures on the hospital campus.
In addition, the 100-year-old Casino Building was spared from the wrecking ball and will be converted into a student community center. "It's reinventing itself," said Lindsay Thompson, Sheppard Pratt's project coordinator. "When the architect came and looked at the land, he said, `That's a beautiful building for a community center.'"
The need to develop Sheppard Pratt property results from changes in psychiatric treatment, Sharfstein said. New medicines that stabilize patients more quickly have reduced the number of hospital stays.
In 1986, the average patient stay was 76 days. Today, patients stay an average of 10 days, Sharfstein said. As a result, most of Sheppard Pratt's services are outpatient; the number of beds has dropped from 322 to 170 in the past 15 years.
Of the 40,000 patients treated last year, 6,000 spent time at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital. The remainder were treated at one of 20 Sheppard Pratt facilities that make up the state's largest behavioral-health system.
Sheppard Pratt is considering an expansion over the next decade that would cost up to $70 million. Officials aren't sure whether the expansion would include adding a hospital wing or renovating properties.
"These projects contribute to a vision for a modern hospital," Sharfstein said.