Rosemont may find hope in Coppin

University committed to using some funds to rebuild neighborhood

`Just cautiously optimistic'

September 27, 2004|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

Mary Rosemond moved to Rosedale Street in West Baltimore's Rosemont community more than a half-century ago, when the neighborhood was turning over from white to black, everyone still mowed their lawn and Coppin State College was a standout address in the community.

But since then, with each passing decade, her neighborhood has gradually declined. And Coppin, now a university, is no longer the same jewel of a location, just part of the fabric in a strained community. To arrive at the North Avenue campus, commuters pass blocks of dilapidated rowhouses and loiterers on busy corners. There is widespread poverty and unfathomable neglect.

"It seems as if we are seeing ourselves deteriorate," said Rosemond, 78, a retired schoolteacher. "The persons and residents here now aren't caring for their homes as the residents did when the community changed from white to black."

But city officials say that bleak image could soon change into a much brighter picture, and Coppin could be leading the way. The school is committed to using some of the $160 million in capital improvement funds it expects to receive from the state over the next 10 years to rebuild not only the campus, but also the adjoining neighborhoods.

"We have to develop our front porch first. In other words, what does it look like across the street" from campus? said university President Stanley F. Battle, who called the immediate area surrounding the school "very challenging."

"We have boarded-up houses across the street," said Battle, who became president last year and immediately began remaking the school's image, first by having its name changed from college to university. "Someone who actually lives in the community and works at Coppin refers to us as an oasis."

Coppin, whose campus is easily accessible and unobstructed by gates or fences, wants to expand into the community and become a more attractive place to study.

There is potential for street patterns to be changed so as to make the campus more of a focal point. Bright new homes with freshly planted young trees could line some streets. And even busy four-lane North Avenue could have its traffic flow interrupted in front of campus by a round-about, city officials said, for an added aesthetic touch.

The hope is for the largely commuter university to transition into a residential campus. Something similar, perhaps, to the Johns Hopkins University in North Baltimore, where the campus seamlessly blends into the neighborhood where many of its students and faculty live. But for that to happen for Coppin, the housing stock must improve and other issues, such as safety, must be addressed, a city official said.

`More of a university'

"What was once a commuter college is becoming very much more of a university, with the students staying on campus," said Otis Rolley III, the city's planning director. "We're trying to create an environment where the professors and staff at the university can live in that community, as well, and live well."

Coppin, known for its teacher, nursing and social work programs, has just more than 3,700 undergraduate and graduate students. In recent years, the school has grabbed unfavorable headlines for having a poor academic record, punctuated by low graduation rates. But school officials said they are making progress in that area.

As problematic as the school's academic record has been in recent years, its physical condition has been just as much a concern. Battle said the school has begun spending on beautification projects like new signage and updated building facades, which have boosted student morale.

A 2001 independent federal report concluded that Maryland had neglected and underfunded Coppin, and stated that the school would need $300 million in capital funds. The governor's office, while expressing support for funding Coppin, has not yet promised all the money the report suggested but has committed to providing more than half the amount, Battle said.

Battle and Rolley said money must be found to pay for Coppin's external plans, which include rehabilitating the overgrown and neglected Lutheran Hospital site in Rosemont, which is owned by the university. But the hope is that the state funds the university has can be leveraged to secure more cash from different sources, both government and nonprofit.

The school and city have scheduled three community meetings to invite resident input in the revitalization plans. They will be tonight at Rosemont Elementary School, 2777 Presstman St.; tomorrow, at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School, 2400 Windsor Ave.; and Oct. 5 at Calverton Middle School, 1100 Whitmore Ave. Each meeting will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, the school and the planning department have hired a consultant to conduct a $210,000 market study and make recommendations for improving the housing options in Rosemont -- which is bordered by Gwynns Falls Parkway to the north, Edmondson Avenue to the south, Hilton Parkway to the west and Monroe Street to the east.

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