State designates part of Rosewood site as surplus

Move may clear way for first middle school in Owings Mills

March 22, 2007|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN REPORTER

State officials declared 54 acres at the Rosewood Center in Owings Mills surplus property yesterday, opening the door for county officials to purchase it to build a school.

For parents and state legislators, who have long championed the idea of building what would be the area's first middle school, the state Board of Public Works decision is a significant development.

"Children are bused farther because there isn't a centrally located middle school," said Jonathan Schwartz, chairman of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Community Council's Owings Mills Middle School committee. "With two high schools and several elementary schools in the area, there's a definite need for the middle school. This is a great first step for the northwest part of the county."

Schwartz, whose daughter Zara, 8, is in second grade at Chatsworth Elementary, said parents have battled for more than a decade to persuade school and county officials to build the school because middle school enrollments in the area have been lower than expected.

But he and others, including state Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, said enrollment dips because many parents send their middle-schoolers to private schools rather than to the nearest public schools in Reisterstown and Pikesville.

Zirkin, whose District 11 includes Owings Mills, said increasing residential development in the area has led to a "dire need" for a middle school, and the Rosewood site is an ideal location.

"I'm going to fight to get a middle school on the county's priority list," he said. "But at the very least, this gives us what we've needed, which is a new school site."

School officials said acquiring the land would give the system the flexibility to address needs across the county, but it is too early to determine whether the Rosewood site would be used for a middle school.

"The board has made it a clear priority to explore all options and expand the land bank," said schools spokesman Brice Freeman. Baltimore County is the only entity that has expressed interest in purchasing the parcel, at the southeastern corner of Gwynnbrook Avenue and Owings Mills Boulevard, according to state officials.

A purchase price hasn't been set. State legislators have 45 days to comment on the decision to sell the property before the state's real estate office seeks an appraisal to establish a market-value price, said Dave Humphrey, spokesman for the state's Department of General Services.

Proceeds from the sale will be deposited into the Community Services Trust Fund of the Developmental Disabilities Administration, which provides services such as respite care and community-supported living arrangements, state officials said.

"Given the targeted growth that has occurred and is projected to occur in Owings Mills, the county has determined that the most critical use for the property is that it be acquired for a future school site," County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said in a statement released through state officials yesterday.

In the same statement, Gov. Martin O'Malley said the decision was geared toward helping the county acquire land to build schools in one of the state's targeted growth areas.

Humphrey said the state has been selling parcels at the Rosewood Center for two decades.

Founded more than a century ago, the Rosewood Center, the state's largest residential facility for profoundly disabled adults, has come under fire for failing to prevent patient-on-patient violence. Last month, the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a monthlong ban on all new admissions to the 300-acre campus, and advocates continue to press the state to close the facility.

In a recent state report, inspectors found that the center's staff failed to protect residents from harming themselves and other patients. Rosewood, which once housed more than 2,700 patients, now has about 200 patients, with about 58 of them having been committed by the courts because they are believed to be incompetent to stand trial.

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