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GMU to Explore Options for Full Loudoun Campus

By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 3, 2009

George Mason University officials are planning this summer to gauge developers' interest in building a full-service GMU campus in Loudoun County, in the hope that the first phase of such a project could be completed in 2014, according to a report released last week.

The report, a feasibility study done by a George Mason consultant, will be presented to the Loudoun Board of Supervisors on Tuesday and to the Leesburg Town Council next week.

The study envisions a campus that GMU would operate in a partnership with Northern Virginia Community College, with the schools sharing facilities, and some students applying to GMU after completing one or two years at NOVA.

Without proposing specific sites, the report suggests that one model for the campus would be a program focused on health services training, with a location near a hospital or medical research center, and another model that would be a traditional university in downtown Leesburg or eastern Loudoun, possibly near a transit center.

The report's summary says the campus facilities could be built by a private developer and leased to GMU but does not include details on how the project could be funded or what it would cost.

Loudoun political and business leaders have long been interested in expanding the presence of George Mason, which has a satellite campus in Sterling. Two years ago, GMU officials considered opening a campus in Dulles South as part of a development that would have included thousands of new homes, but county supervisors later rejected the plan to increase the area's residential density.

The report says university officials intend to solicit proposals this summer from property owners interested in providing land for a campus, as well as from developers interested in integrating a campus into an existing project. It forecasts a long timeline, with the campus completed between 2018 and 2030.

Jerald P. Coughter, executive officer of George Mason's Loudoun campus, said in an interview last week that a fully developed campus would accommodate about 5,000 students and that fewer than half that number would be enrolled when the first phase was completed in 2014.

A new campus would serve the needs of the Loudoun business community, which has expressed interest in having nearby training programs for its employees, Coughter said. He said the campus would be a place where employees with a wide range of career backgrounds could obtain degrees or update certifications.

"It's not just for people who are professionals who need to go back and get an MBA," Coughter said.

From GMU's perspective, expanding in Loudoun makes sense as the region's student population rises and space is tight at public universities, Coughter said. He noted that according to a recent George Mason study, the number of college-bound high school students in the region will reach 40,000 by 2012, and about 25,000 of them will attend a four-year college. The study included students from Loudoun, Fairfax, Prince William and Fauquier counties, Winchester and nearby counties in West Virginia.

The study on building a GMU campus in Loudoun was presented April 23 at a closed meeting of an ad hoc committee that includes GMU officials, the chairman and vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors, the mayor and vice mayor of Leesburg, and representatives of the Loudoun public school system and the business community.

Leesburg Vice Mayor Katie Sheldon Hammler said she hopes the town is eventually selected as the campus site. Leesburg's old-town charm would make it an appropriate setting for a university, she said.

She said students from the campus would breathe new life into the downtown area, creating more foot traffic and boosting sales at shops and restaurants.

"We would love to see the downtown as an epicenter of an academic village," Hammler said. "We're very much a college town in need of a campus."

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