Georgetown University, Montgomery College in the running to acquire National Labor College campus in Silver Spring


National Labor College in Silver Spring. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN)

The National Labor College is selling its 47-acre Silver Spring campus, and Georgetown University and Montgomery College have stepped forward as potential buyers.

Begun as the George Meany Center for Labor Studies, the college is devoted to the education of union members. But with union membership dwindling, the college is no longer able to keep up with the costs of maintaining the property and debt payments remaining from previous construction projects.

To address its budget issues, the college decided to sell its campus, located on New Hampshire Avenue adjacent to the Capital Beltway, and although real estate developers have toured the property, the two schools have emerged as the most likely purchasers.

Georgetown would use the campus for varsity sports and possible meeting space and is looking to create a partnership with the county to purchase the property. The team’s sports programs currently compete at nine sites in the region, with the baseball team’s home games in Cabin John. Separately, the university has begun exploring where to acquire another 100 acres for an expansion in the District.

“We’re very interested in that site for possible athletic fields and maybe conference space,” university spokeswoman Stacy Kerr said.

Montgomery College enrolls roughly 60,000 students in credit and non-credit community college programs annually and has campuses in Germantown, Rockville and Takoma Park. It continues to grow, and has opened a math and science center at its Rockville campus in 2011.

Elizabeth Homan, spokeswoman for the college, cautioned that the school has not submitted a formal bid. “We have toured the site, but no decisions have been made and there hasn’t been any offer,” she said.

But Homan said that as more high school graduates turn to community colleges they are looking for the experience of campus life at a four-year school, and that requires more space.

“They’re not just coming to Montgomery College, taking their classes and leaving,” she said. “They want the full, rich campus experience, with student life, with places to be, and places to study, and places to learn.”

Montgomery County Council member Valerie Ervin, a former dean at the labor college, said she encouraged Montgomery College President DeRionne P. Pollard to tour the property this summer. “It was the first time she’d seen it, and she fell in love with it,” Ervin said.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the sales process said that developer Macerich, based in Santa Monica, Calif., had considered a bid for the property and discussed the possibility of building a shopping center on the site with county officials. A Macerich spokeswoman said the deal was not something the company was pursuing.

Despite ample green space and only having nine buildings, the campus carries some complications for commercial development. For one, the Labor College is still operating on the campus, with 506 students enrolled this fall, and plans to continue operating.

After the campus sells, James Gentile, general counsel for the National Labor College, said the school would remain open, either on the campus as a tenant or elsewhere. “We are in discussions with potential purchasers now and one of the possibilities with some of the purchasers is that the college could remain to operate on the campus,” he said.

Ervin said that she would like to see the property remain as an educational campus and was happy to consider the possibility of the county partnering with one or both of the schools to accomplish that. “I think there are a lot of conversations right now about how to make a deal like that work,” she said.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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