CATONSVILLE, Md. — University of Maryland Baltimore County is set to take over the campus of Catonsville's longtime Spring Grove psychiatric hospital.
The state's Board of Public Works voted 2-1 Wednesday to transfer Spring Grove to UMBC.
Gov. Larry Hogan voted for the move despite opposition from state mental health leaders and some community members who called the decision rushed.
State comptroller and gubernatorial candidate Peter Franchot tried to table the vote, peppering Maryland Secretary of Health Dennis Schrader and Nelson E. Reichart, principal deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of General Services, with questions about the property's appraisal and the need to approve the transfer now.
The vote means the 175-acre campus of the 225-year-old Spring Grove hospital will be transferred to the university, according to the board's agenda.
Outgoing UMBC president Freeman Hrabowski said at the hearing that it's been a goal for more than 30 years.
"It will help build the research and education," he said, although "we have no plans yet" for the specifics. He said the community will be involved in the plans. and noted he "was so encouraged" by Stevenson University's acquisition of the former Rosewood institution several years ago.
Hrabowski added that "UMBC was actually the farm to Spring Grove, so we have had that historical connection from the beginning."
Hogan said it "represents a tremendous opportunity for UMBC" and pointed out Hrabowski has been "pushing for this for literally decades."
Last year, the state announced plans to transfer Spring Grove's services to other healthcare providers by 2041.
The campus has 77 buildings, 375 inpatient beds for adult and adolescent patients, and is the second-oldest continuously-operating psychiatric hospital in the country, dating to 1797.
The public works board's agenda noted that Spring Grove's on-campus facilities "are functionally obsolete, and the cost to re-capitalize these facilities would be cost-prohibitive."
The 1-million-square-foot property will be transferred to UMBC for a nominal fee of $1; the university would lease the campus for 10 years with two renewal options of up to five years each. The state health department would "continue to operate and maintain the property for the foreseeable future while exploring the use of currently available excess bed capacity at other regional facilities."
UMBC spokesperson Lisa Akchin said in a statement earlier:
UMBC has no specific, immediate plans for the property. If the transfer is approved by the Board of Public Works, UMBC will engage with the State, County, and the community as the university updates its long-range master facilities plan. This planning process would begin in 2023.
Franchot opposed the transfer, explaining he has nothing against UMBC.
"It has everything to do with the unusual and seemingly rushed" decision to make the transfer, as well as the state's assessment of the property, he said.
Franchot wondered why the state did not seek an independent appraisal of the site.
The transfer was opposed by a local union, AFSCME Council 3, whose representative said the move will expedite the closure of the hospital, leaving patients and employees with nowhere to go.
Stuart Katzenberg said the move is a back-door effort to close the hospital after a formal proposal was turned down by the Maryland General Assembly.
Katzenberg noted the hospital has about 800 employees who would be affected.
Prominent mental-health leaders and some community members also testified at the Public Works meeting against the transfer.
They said they had no issues with UMBC, but were concerned about the impact on Spring Grove patients.
Dan Martin, of the nonprofit Mental Health Association of Maryland, said at the Public Works meeting that "Spring Grove's budget was rarely if ever adequate" during its long history, and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) of Maryland and the Maryland Coalition of Families also support postponing the vote.
Maryland Secretary of Health Dennis Schrader said the new master plan for the state's mental-health facilities will be a 20-year process.
"This is the beginning of the process, not the end," he said, adding that it will cost UMBC several million dollars to do the planning for the Spring Grove property.
"You can't expect them to spend that kind of money without knowing they have site control," he told the Board of Public Works.
Franchot also raised concerns about the state's appraisal process, since it's giving UMBC the property for $1.
Nelson E. Reichart, Principal Deputy Secretary for Maryland Department of General Services, said the assessment did note that the 175-acre property would be worth about $20 million, based on comparable market sales in the area. He said those assessments are available to the public.