BALTIMORE (WJZ) — By a vote of 2-1, the Maryland Board of Public Works on Wednesday approved transferring the campus of Spring Grove Hospital Center, a 375-bed psychiatric hospital in Catonsville, to the neighboring University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Gov. Larry Hogan and Treasurer Dereck Davis voted in favor of the measure, while Comptroller Peter Franchot, who previously raised concerns about the future options for patients and the lack of public engagement, was the only “No.”

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Appearing before the board, outgoing UMBC President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski testified that acquiring the land has been a goal of the school for 30 years. The college will start developing a plan for the site next year, he said.

“UMBC students, faculty, staff, and future students will be grateful to Governor Hogan and other state leaders for years to come,” Hrabowski said in a statement. “This is a visionary collaboration for the future of Maryland.”

Hogan said the transfer will continue to burnish the university’s reputation.

“With the transfer of Spring Grove, this property, UMBC will grow even further and continue to play a meaningful role in advancing education, community development and economic and workforce development in Baltimore County and throughout the state of Maryland,” he said.

Prior to the vote, Franchot called for pushing the item back several weeks to bring in more mental health professionals and advocates in to discuss future plans for the patients at Spring Grove. He noted the transfer of the Crownsville State Hospital to Anne Arundel County included input from County Executive Steuart Pittman on the county’s plans for the site.

“We have none of that currently before us,” he said.

UMBC will purchase the complex, including 175 acres and 77 buildings, for $1 and lease it back to the Maryland Department of Health over the next 10 years so the agency can continue to operate Spring Grove while looking for excess bed capacity at other facilities in the region. The health department has two five-year options to renew the agreement.

The university said it doesn’t have a plan for the site, but it will engage with the state, the county and community leaders during its planning process “to envision a future for the Spring Grove property that supports the university’s long-term development and enhances both economic development and quality of life in the Baltimore region and Maryland.”

Dating back to 1797, Spring Grove is the second-oldest continually operating psychiatric hospital in the country, according to the health department. The agency released its 2041 Master Plan last year and laid out a framework transitioning services at Spring Grove to other facilities in the state, starting in Fiscal Year 2032.

Assessing the campus, the health department said Spring Grove’s functionality, architecture and civil engineering were all “Poor,” while the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems were considered “Fair.” Some buildings on campus date back to the 1800s, the agency said.

“The patient buildings were designed at a time when patients were often placed in rooms with four or five patients per room,” the agency said in the report. “Patient care standards have changed over time, reducing the number of patients per room.”

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Thirty-three of the buildings on the grounds have already been decommissioned, Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader testified Wednesday.

Nelson Reichart, principal deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of General Services, testified the state assessed the value of the land at $20 million, but the cost of making the parcel suitable for development comes with an estimated price tag of $135 million, factoring in building demolition, historic restoration and stormwater management.

Local union AFSCME Council 3 opposed the transfer, saying it would negatively impact patients and 800 staff members.

“The need for in-patient psychiatric treatment only continues to grow and this lease creates no new beds while closing one of the state’s largest facilities,” the union said in an online petition before the board meeting.

Patrick Moran, president of the union, released a statement after the vote saying members are happy to see UMBC expand, but “not at the expense of other critical state services such as our state hospital system.”

“There is not currently nor a plan for 350+ psychiatric beds to come online for care around the state, at one site or even cumulatively. Right now, there is already a backlog for beds in the state hospital system, we can’t afford to lose any beds,” said Moran.

Dan Martin, director of public policy for the Mental Health Association of Maryland, called for a delay. While acknowledging UMBC would benefit from the acquisition of Spring Grove, which has been deteriorating for decades, he testified budgeting for mental health in the state has been insufficient for decades, and there is nothing firm in place on how the state will replace the facility.

“Our sole concern is the needs of current and future patients are better met, and we’re deeply concerned about moving to transfer this asset without an accompanying plan for patient care,” he said.

Schrader testified the health department is moving toward a model with crisis centers in communities, diverting people away from the criminal justice system.

“We want to do more investment in community-based care, and getting people out of these kind of settings,” he said.

The agency is developing the first of four centers it has proposed, and Schrader expects the state will need more.

Although the Hogan administration is set to leave office in eight months, Schrader said his department is putting in capital requests with the Department of Budget and Management for the next five years.

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“This is the beginning of a long journey,” he said.

Brandon Weigel