On a recent spring day, the branches of overgrown trees stretch to a picture- perfect blue sky through weathered roofs that have crumbled or been scorched by flames from multiple fires. Scores of shattered panels on glass windows gape, and debris from the once stately stone-and-brick structures line the ground.
“You will DIE JOHN,” reads one of the sprayed-painted tags, many of them vulgar, that cover the wall inside a deteriorating building with chipping, peeling and flaking paint.
Just about 5 miles from a booming center of Jewish life — the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC — sits the former state-owned psychiatric institution Rosewood Center, a long-vacant eyesore and nuisance since its closure in 2009.
Rosewood, which was home to some of Maryland’s most severely developmentally disabled residents for more than a century, has long been a topic of uncertainty among state officials, disability rights advocates and local residents.
“This has really been a hot-potato issue,” said Teresa Moore, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council, a Towson-based nonprofit land-use and planning organization that works to preserve rural character. “We can’t stress enough how important it is that things be done right for this site.”
A Long Journey
First opened in 1888 as an “asylum and training school for the feeble-minded,” the 37-building complex that once bore witness to decades of abuse, neglect and vandalism now appears to have new life.
Much-anticipated redevelopment plans for the site have started to surface since the state Board of Public Works approved the sale of 117 acres of Rosewood to Stevenson University on June 7 for $1.
“This was hard stuff,” said state Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11), who represents the Rosewood area and for years has pushed for the land deal, working with four gubernatorial administrations. “Rosewood was a massive problem all these years, and in swoops Stevenson to take on what is going to be a transformative project for the entire community.”
Acquiring Rosewood was an effort that former longtime Stevenson president Kevin J. Manning undertook when he first arrived at the school in October 2000. Manning, who led the university through its name change from Villa Julie College in 2008, retired in November after more than 16 years at the school but remained active in the Rosewood deal until its completion.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an academic leader to be creative with a situation like this,” Manning said. “I think this was just a matter of us being in the right place at the right time.”
Manning said he expects a comprehensive plan for the property to be in place within the next six months. At this time, he said, the tentative plan is to knock down or rehabilitate the 17 dilapidated buildings Stevenson will inherit under the deal.
The site, Manning hopes, will include “two or three athletic facilities and academic buildings,” citing needs for a fieldhouse, a swimming pool and an on-campus ice-skating rink to accommodate Stevenson’s expansion. There are also designs to add more parking around the campus and an eight-story student center near Mustang Stadium.
“We’d like to share those buildings, especially the athletic facilities, in the same way that we share [Owings Mills Gymnasium] and [Mustang Stadium] with the community,” said Manning, who now serves as the university’s president emeritus. “This will really cement our future and make a difference in a really big way.”
Rosewood sits adjacent to Stevenson’s Owings Mills campus and will nearly double the footprint of the university, which has evolved from a predominately commuter school into Maryland’s third-largest independent university.
The school, with more than 4,100 students, also operates a 66-acre campus on Greenspring Road, about 8 miles from the 102-acre Owings Mills campus.
Although concerns over a possible surge in traffic along Garrison Forest Road were raised, a light pathway will connect the Rosewood property to the rest of the Owings Mills campus, Manning said.
“You’ll never have to get on Garrison Forest Road, which was part of our agreement with the surrounding neighbors,” Manning said. “When we build this path, you’ll be able to walk and/or drive over to Rosewood from our existing Owings Mills campus. It will also give us more space to expand well into the future.”
Once a mound of dirt, Stevenson’s Owings Mills campus opened just west of Rosewood on a steep hill of 70 acres in 2004.
During the time Manning negotiated the Rosewood deal, Stevenson constructed state-of-the-art student dormitories, academic buildings and student activity centers.
In 2011, for example, Manning oversaw the purchase of an adjacent complex, Shire Pharmaceuticals, for $10.5 million. One of the renovated buildings now houses the 18,000-square-foot School of Design. The second structure, a 200,000 square-foot home to the School of the Sciences and the new Nursing and Health Professions, opened this fall and was named the Kevin J. Manning Academic Center.
Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond (D-District 2), who represents the Rosewood area, said she is confident the vision Stevenson has for the Rosewood property is what’s best for the community. As a community activist, Almond pushed for Stevenson to acquire the land after Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration and the Board of Public Works declared the land surplus in 2010.
“[Stevenson] has been so generous and so cooperative in the area and with the community,” Almond said. “I have no doubt Stevenson will do what it says it’s going to do.”
Partnerships and Cleanup
Community partners and officials say they believe Stevenson’s acquisition of Rosewood will help redefine the Owings Mills area as having a special sense of place and community.
The JCC and Stevenson, for instance, have established a strong working relationship. The Rosenbloom JCC’s baseball facility serves as the home field for the Stevenson women’s softball team. Stevenson, meanwhile, has sponsored the JCC’s annual Community Block Party since its inception in 2014 and, for the last three years, has provided a free parking and shuttle service to and from the event.
Paul Lurie, chief operations officer at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, said he has had preliminary discussions with Stevenson on the Rosewood property. From his conversations with university officials, including director of athletics Brett Adams, whom he considers a good friend, Lurie said he is confident there will be opportunities to provide more mutually beneficial programming options.
“We’re looking to have youth and adult programs and not just things that are a university staple, but rather a community staple,” Lurie said. “I think Stevenson has already started thinking about what those possibilities could look like.”
Stevenson has academic neighbors with which it has also established strong relationships and which figure to benefit from the land deal as well. The Jemicy School, an independent, college preparatory school for students ages 6 to 18 with learning disabilities, has operated its upper school next to Rosewood at 11202 Garrison Forest Road since 2009.
Ben Shifrin, head of school at Jemicy, said he thinks there will be more opportunities for Stevenson student teachers to get hands-on training at Jemicy once the university’s restoration project is finished.
“One of the biggest problems I’m seeing is that teachers aren’t being prepared to enter the classroom” said Shifrin, who sits on the Stevenson President’s Advisory Council. “So, I would hope a partnership between Stevenson and Jemicy would really enhance teacher training. It’s really exciting that we’re going to have them next door to us like this.”
While many are pleased with the future of Rosewood, some are taking a cautiously optimistic approach until the environmental problems are officially resolved and the project breaks ground.
“I think Stevenson was right to get the funding to clean up the site, because they didn’t make the problem,” Moore said. “They shouldn’t have to take on more than their share, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
The concerns stem from a host of environmental issues Stevenson must address to the satisfaction of the Maryland Department of the Environmental by Oct. 18, 2019, for the sale to be finalized. A 2009 consultant’s report found lead-based paint and materials containing asbestos in many of the buildings, as well as high levels of concentration of toxic chemicals from ash dumping and leaking oil tanks.
The state will provide $16 million in state bonds over the next three years for remediation of the site. After Stevenson passes a state inspection and receives the deed to the property, the university will be required to use the property for educational purposes for at least 15 years.
“With a $60 million project like this, you can’t expect this to happen overnight,” Zirkin said. “[Rosewood] is an absolute cesspool, so it’s going to take some time, but there’s no question that this will happen.”
The state, meanwhile, is still working to figure out a solution for the remaining 71 acres of Rosewood that will complement Stevenson. Zirkin said the parcel “is the most problematic environmentally and will have huge costs.” Gov. Larry Hogan, Zirkin added, has ideas to potentially expand the Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery — located at 11501 Garrison Forest Road — on the remaining Rosewood land.
“That’s probably always been the biggest challenge with the land,” said Zirkin, who noted he hasn’t had a conversation with Hogan in which Rosewood hasn’t come up. “We have to clean it up, because it’s the state’s obligation. “I think extending the cemetery would be a great use of the property.”
Honoring The Past
While the state and Stevenson forge ahead with their plans, advocates for people with disabilities say the university should not forget the storied history of Rosewood despite the facility’s checkered past.
Nancy Pineles, managing attorney for the Maryland Disability Law Center, said she hopes to see Stevenson provide scholarships and more courses for developmentally disabled people.
“There’s a long history of trying to close institutions such as Rosewood to help people live normal, regular lives,” said Pineles, who works to promote the civil rights of people with disabilities.
Throughout its existence, Rosewood was notorious for being overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed, earning the moniker “Maryland’s Shame” in a 1949 series of articles by The Baltimore Sun.
More than three times it current size of 178 acres, Rosewood once housed as many as 3,000 patients in the mid-1960s, but at the time of its closing, that number had dipped to 166.
Brian Cox, executive director of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, said Rosewood emptied out as health care options for the developmentally disabled drastically changed for the better. An emphasis on community-based services that allow those individuals to live with their families or in group homes, Cox said, has become the standard.
“Society has recognized over time that people with intellectual disabilities should not be segregated and denied opportunities for a full, meaningful life like anyone else,” Cox said. “An array of support has evolved over the past 30 years to make that possible for everyone, even people with the most significant disabilities.”
Amy Blank, 59, whose brother, Daniel, 53, has Down syndrome and was institutionalized through part of his childhood, though not at Rosewood, has been a lifelong advocate for the developmentally disabled community. She was appointed to the Rosewood Advisory Board Committee by Gov. Parris Glendening in 1998 to hear the concerns of parents whose children grew up and lived in Rosewood.
Needless to say, after hearing stories similar to her brother’s, Blank praised the closure of Rosewood and said she is hopeful Stevenson will safeguard the legacies of those who resided and, in some cases, died at the facility.
“I’m thrilled that Stevenson is taking over the property,” said Blank, a Pikesville native who is running in 2018 to represent District 11 in the state House of Delegates. “Creating policies, programs and services that allow the developmentally disabled community to get employment, leisure and learning opportunities is key to allowing them to participate in campus life.”
Manning agreed, saying he expects The Arc of Maryland, which serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and Stevenson to collaborate on “numerous educational” initiatives.
“Those are all things we have certainly explored and are looking at in great detail,” Manning said. “I’m pretty sure that collaboration will take place. How it will take place? I’m not sure, because I won’t be there, but I think there will be some discussion with our faculty and staff and The Arc people we have on campus.”