Waste clouds Rosewood future

Stevenson University plans athletic fields, but questions remain on toxic materials at Owings Mills property

May 18, 2010|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

Stevenson University sees the former Rosewood Center in Owings Mills as part of its future — but first, university officials want to hear more about the hazardous residue of Rosewood's past.

The land and buildings that housed the state institution for the developmentally disabled contain asbestos, lead, PCBs, concentrations of toxic chemicals from coal ash dumping, and leaking oil tanks. Exactly how much hazardous material, where it is, whether it has to be removed and what a cleanup would cost remain unknown.

University officials have talked with the state about buying roughly 178 acres declared surplus by the Board of Public Works in January. The county planning board, which would rather see the land used for education than for homes or business, has endorsed Stevenson as master developer of the Rosewood Center.

Tim Campbell, chief executive officer and executive vice president for financial affairs at Stevenson, said the school is interested in pursuing the Rosewood property but there are questions to be answered before serious negotiations can take place.

"The major concern is to define what we're dealing with," Campbell said.

The university, which offers liberal arts and professional programs to 3,100 undergraduate and graduate students, opened a second campus just west of Rosewood in Owings Mills in 2004. Officials plan to keep expanding the school, which was known as Villa Julie College until 2008.

The Rosewood site is owned by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, but the discussions with Stevenson have been led by the Department of General Services.

Those two agencies have "primary responsibility" for the next actions needed to clean up the property, according to a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

But Michael A. Gaines Sr., who is in charge of real estate for the Department of General Services, said the state intends to sell the property "as is."

Trouble is, it's hardly clear right now what "as is" is.

Finding that out is going to mean another study, to determine the extent of the contamination and estimate the cost of removing it. Bart Thomas, an assistant secretary of the Department of General Services, said the study would cost about $100,000.

Who would pay the bill? Campbell said that would have to be discussed between the parties.

"We don't want to spend a ton of money to find out we're not interested," Campbell said. He said the university has been trying to get estimates for the project but declined to elaborate.

A study by Arc Environmental Inc. last summer and fall took inventory of evidence of hazardous materials found from historical records and photographs of Rosewood Center and inspections done on the grounds, including measurements from soil samples and groundwater test wells.

Much of what the study found would be expected, given that most of the buildings and underground tunnels were constructed from the late 19th century through the 1960s, when lead, asbestos and PCBs were widely used in construction and in electrical fixtures. All three substances are now recognized as hazardous materials.

In addition to these common hazards, inspectors found that years of dumping coal ash from the campus power plant had left arsenic and chromium residue, particularly in the western part of the property. Wells showed evidence that fuel tanks — above and below ground — in several places on campus had leaked.

The Maryland Department of the Environment, which has played a limited advisory role in handling the Rosewood Center, finds no cause for alarm. Spokesman Jay Apperson said the agency reviewed the Arc reports and found no "imminent or substantial danger to human health or the environment."

Todd Chason, the environmental lawyer for Stevenson, said he saw nothing in the Arc reports that falls "outside the bounds of a typical site that's had a long history of use."

Still, concern about contamination and the cost of cleaning it up was enough to persuade the Shoshana S. Cardin School earlier this year to drop an option to buy about 50 acres of a separate parcel at Rosewood for a new high school. The Cardin School has decided to build on Park Heights Avenue, where it has been leasing space. It retains an option on about 20 acres in a third parcel at Rosewood.

At the moment, there is no way to estimate what a cleanup would cost, as that would depend on how the land would be used.

Stevenson has presented preliminary plans to the county and the state for athletic fields and to use two existing buildings, each about 50 years old, to house the school of education and administrative and faculty offices.

The president of the Greater Greenspring Association said he likes what he has seen of Stevenson's plans, because they seem to offer the best prospect for using the land while keeping open space and limiting traffic.

"The community's hopes are pinned on Stevenson," James Agelone said.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

Toxic materials at Rosewood Center

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