- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Four years ago, Bowie State University fought hard against plans by Prince George’s County to build a trash transfer station behind the school.

In the end, the university was the winner — the project was scrapped in 2002, and the county later decided to give the 200-acre plot to the university.

The land, mostly swampy fields and woods, will boost the size of the roughly 300-acre campus by two-thirds. The school hasn’t decided yet what to do with the plot, but the possibilities under consideration include a research park or even the sale of portions to private developers.

University President Calvin Lowe says the land, along with a 50-acre unused plot the school owns, could be an important source of revenue for the fast-growing school. Money it generates could pay for buildings, academic programs and other projects to help boost the stature of one of Maryland’s historically black institutions, he said.

The proposals fit into an initiative by the University System of Maryland, which oversees Bowie State, that directs the state’s public universities to identify surplus land that could be sold to cut costs.

But some state education officials say the program may encourage universities to sell off valuable assets to overcome shortfalls in state aid for higher education.

“In theory, that is a reasonable thing to do,” said James Rosapepe, a regent who toured the Bowie State property recently. “But when you are talking about 200 acres of wooded land and meadows, I think we have to be very conservative and cautious in selling off the crown jewels to meet state budget cuts.”

The university system, which oversees 13 campuses, called on university presidents to draft lists of surplus property — land the schools own that is either not in use or classified as “underutilized.” The program is part of the system’s “Efficiency and Effectiveness” initiative, designed to find ways to cut costs.

Under the policy they adopted in the fall, the regents must approve any sale. So far, only the University of Baltimore has proposed selling a parcel of land, said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the university system.

Mr. Kirwan said the land initiative is not intended to make up for state funding shortfalls.

“It is not in anybody’s thinking, nor would the board ever consider the sale of land to solve a budget problem,” he said.

A board committee voted in the summer to remove from consideration for sale an 840-acre campus of research labs and offices run by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Cambridge. The Horn Point Laboratory was under pressure from developers, who wanted to turn the waterfront property into condominiums.

Mr. Lowe said he has heard from developers who want to build an office park or houses on the Bowie State plot. He did not know the value of the land, but it is located in the fast-growing center of Prince George’s, has frontage on a major road and is next to a MARC commuter-train station.

Planning is still in the early stages, but Mr. Lowe said he will approve only projects that provide long-term revenue to the university, not straight sales that will provide only a one-time shot of cash.

“I think Bowie State should be applauded for looking at ways to take advantage of some of its most valuable real estate to meet its needs,” he said.

That could include a project similar to the University of Maryland at College Park’s M Square, a research park to be built near campus. The university will own the land and lease it to companies and federal agencies that plan to open offices there.

Development at Bowie State also could entail the sale or leasing of land for homes, Mr. Lowe said. He did not provide specifics on how a sale would provide ongoing revenue.

“It won’t necessarily be houses,” he said, “But it may turn out that some percentage of the stuff turns out to be houses.”

Bowie State is expected to grow rapidly over the next several years. The school projects the student body to grow from the current 4,000 to about 5,600 in 2012.

A campus master plan calls for the construction of several buildings to help handle that growth, some of which could be funded by the land transactions. Revenue from any land deal also could be used to help maintain existing facilities, Mr. Lowe said.

“Clearly, we are not going to be able to depend solely on state appropriations and fees to do what we need to do,” he said.

Still, Bowie State could run into trouble with the county, which has yet to transfer the deed to the 200-acre plot. County Executive Jack B. Johnson thinks the land should be used for university buildings and to expand the campus, said his spokesman Jim Keary.

Mr. Rosapepe said any money made off the land should not be used for buildings or other projects that don’t grow in value. He would rather see the revenue put into scholarships or endowments that will increase over time.

“I would want to make sure it is an endowment permanently invested with a return to help Bowie State and Bowie State students for all time,” he said. “We want to avoid a fire-sale mentality that undermines our long-term goals for the university.”

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