The Rosewood Center, founded in 1888 as an asylum for the "feeble-minded," closes its doors for good today and awaits an uncertain future - with an expansion-minded college expressing interest in its space.
Stevenson University would like to take over most of the sprawling Owings Mills campus, now filled with dilapidated buildings contaminated with lead and asbestos, and many neighbors of the facility say they'd be pleased to see the school move in.
"It is a completely neglected time bomb and an environmental cesspool," said state Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Democrat who represents the area. "Most of the buildings have to be torn down, and the cost of remediating is staggering."
Gov. Martin O'Malley ordered the center closed early last year after the latest in a series of reports about substandard conditions.
Most of the 166 people who lived in Rosewood at the time of the announcement have been placed in group homes - a move that prompted its own controversies - while 13 people with criminal histories were moved to a newer, secure unit at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.
More than 500 employees have dispersed, some to jobs at other state facilities. Many retired or resigned and 97 were laid off, although state officials say they are still helping them find work.
Other than security guards, only three state employees will remain on the site, a maintenance crew for its 30 buildings.
Offer to other agencies
Now about 200 acres but once more than three times that size, the site presents enormous environmental challenges before redevelopment can occur, and it could be months before the state decides what to do next.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene plans to offer the Rosewood property to all state agencies and seek comment from Baltimore County officials before considering proposals from the public.
For now, the campus remains vacant but for the ghosts of its troubled inhabitants. The once-stately stone-and-brick structures are overgrown with weeds and ivy and strewn with junked gurneys, file cabinets and wheelchairs.
Zirkin supports the proposal from Stevenson, whose campus next door has nearly doubled in physical size and enrollment in the past five years. The university, until recently known as Villa Julie College, is considering using the land for athletic fields that could help accommodate a football program being launched, a park, an amphitheater and a school of education.
No cost estimates
It may renovate the newer buildings and use them for classrooms. There's no price tag yet, and the school would likely seek state and federal assistance for environmental work.
"This is the only plan out there, but it is a great one," Zirkin said. "All of a sudden, Owings Mills could become a college town. The university could create a heart here for this community and take what has been a major problem and turn it into a community resource."
Glenda G. LeGendre, a spokeswoman for Stevenson, said the university is "very interested" in using about 150 acres of the property, including setting aside some of the land as open space.
In a letter to state officials, James J. Angelone, president of the Greater Greenspring Association, wrote that the university's proposal "is by far the best solution proposed for this site."
Rosewood once housed more than 3,000 people, most of them severely retarded and completely dependent on others for their care. The long wards and echoing hallways were often their home for life, but the conditions and care were frequently judged to be substandard.
Over the course of decades, residents drowned in bathtubs when left unattended or froze to death after wandering out into the snow.
"It is a great thing for Maryland that this institution is closed," said Nancy Pineles, an attorney with the Maryland Disability Law Center, a watchdog group that promotes the civil rights of people with disabilities.
"It was a badly neglected facility that didn't serve any purpose any more."
In 2007, the law center called for state officials to shut down what it called "this flawed, outmoded institution," and noted findings by the state Office of Health Care Quality that conditions at Rosewood posed "immediate jeopardy to the health and safety of residents."
The 180-page survey noted abuses that included treating a deaf patient "with restraints to control his behavior" rather than a staff member skilled in American Sign Language, and found "sustained isolation of individuals with intellectual disabilities in rooms with no personal effects [that] shocks the conscience."
In December 2000, a resident died while being restrained, face-down on a floor, by Rosewood staff members "because he didn't want to go to the gym," said Pineles. She said the care quality office conducted a "limited investigation" but found no deficiencies and required no plan of correction.