New campus to expand Villa Julie's horizons

Officials hope satellite site will draw more students

May 23, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

When Villa Julie College officials first decided to offer housing to their students, they booked 23 undergraduates into the Comfort Inn's extended-stay hotel rooms on Reisterstown Road.

About 200 students eventually moved in, taking over all the long-term suites until the inn was sold about two years ago and replaced by a Target store.

Villa Julie quickly contracted with The Colony, a large apartment complex in Towson, to provide housing for 370 students there. But officials still weren't happy with the temporary solution.

Now, 11 years after those first hotel rooms were rented, the small private liberal arts school is preparing to open its first college-owned dormitories this summer on a new satellite campus in Owings Mills.

The property, officials hope, will eventually include more student apartments, an academic building and athletic fields, allowing increased enrollment and transforming the Stevenson college from a primarily local school into a campus that draws students from around the region.

"It gives me chills," said Claire Moore, the college's dean of students, gazing out across the muddy field where seven brick apartment buildings and a cupola-topped student activities center have sprung up. "I stand here and I think, `My gosh, look how far we've come.'"

The $30 million apartment complex - just off Owings Mills Boulevard near Crondall Lane - will provide housing for 541 students, 16 resident assistants and four resident directors. An 11,000-square-foot activities center will include a fitness room, meeting space, a game room and a lounge for watching television and movies.

The apartments and community center surround a grassy area that school officials hope will attract resident and nonresident students alike - much like the way quads and outdoor "malls" of larger universities are used for studying, relaxing and recreation.

In addition to the 15 acres it owns in Owings Mills, Villa Julie has the right of first refusal on an adjacent 8-acre parcel to build apartments for an additional 600 students and an option to buy another 8 acres for a 90,000-square-foot academic building that would almost double the college's teaching space. Villa Julie's board of trustees approved plans for both construction projects this month.

The college also is negotiating with the city of Baltimore to buy the Ravens' 40-acre practice facility after the pro football team moves to new quarters.

If all the land deals go through, the Owings Mills campus would span almost 70 acres, 10 more than the Stevenson campus on Greenspring Valley Road.

"It's pretty exciting," said Tim Campbell, the college's executive vice president for financial affairs. "We're just getting started out here."

Mindful of the traffic and noise the college generates in the Green Spring Valley area and hemmed in by zoning rules that prohibit construction of residence halls and restrict expansion of its buildings there, Villa Julie officials began looking beyond its borders to branch out several years ago.

They visited more than 40 properties, looking for that rare combination of available land with the proper zoning designations and proximity to the Stevenson campus as well as restaurants, shops and other amenities that would appeal to students.

"It's hard because you don't want to put them out in the middle of nowhere," said Moore, the dean of students. "But if you find a residential area, you don't want to put students out there, either. You need a place where you can let them be students."

In Owings Mills, just seven miles from the Stevenson campus, college officials found what they were looking for in a parcel that used to belong to the state-run Rosewood Center for the developmentally disabled.

Located in the Boulevard Corporation Center, the property sits atop a steep hill and is partially surrounded by forest. The Gwynns Falls provides a natural boundary with Rosewood. A strip mall at the foot of the hill and other nearby retail centers offer sandwich shops, chain restaurants, cafes and a New York-style pizzeria.

Although area residents initially expressed some concern over the college's plans and a possible surge in traffic along the clogged Reisterstown Road corridor, those worries dissipated after community meetings with school officials and the site's developer.

"We're pretty happy with what they're doing and how they're doing it," said Vicki Almond, first vice president of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council. "They've been very good neighbors, so it's a win for everybody."

College officials say the satellite campus and the school-owned housing will not only enable the school to accept more than the 2,500 students who currently attend classes in Stevenson, but also to recruit graduating high school seniors from farther away.

"It allows us to become more of a regional school instead of strictly local," Campbell said. "We can go to Long Island and New Jersey and feel comfortable recruiting there because we own our own housing."

Connected by shuttle bus to the Stevenson property, the second campus also might be used for summer sports camps, conferences and classes for accelerated graduate-degree programs.

Glenda LeGendre, Villa Julie's public relations director, pointed out the rarity of established colleges and universities building new campuses. In fact, she said, she knows of only one other school in the country doing so at the moment.

"It's Harvard," LeGendre said, referring to the Ivy League school's plans to build student housing and academic buildings on an Allston campus, just across the Charles River from Cambridge. "So Harvard and Villa Julie have that in common. It's a big deal."

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