By CHASE GORSKI
CAMPUS – The availability of large and open properties within the Salisbury community, mainly surrounding the university, is a rarity.
As SU is continuously looking for ways to grow the physical campus, a property with that description would more than likely be at the top of the administration’s priorities.
Believe it or not, that property does exist and the university has already set its sights on obtaining it, 10 years ago.
The 19-acre property, which is officially owned by Dresser RE, LLC, sits on the opposite side of Route 13 at the corner of East College Avenue and South Division Street. Back in 2008, the SU Foundation Inc., which handles private funding for the university, approved the purchase of the lot for $5.5 million.
Despite that approval, the SU Foundation still does not officially own the land. The university has been leasing a portion of the property as the Avery Street parking lot for more than 600 parking spaces, but the majority remains in limbo.
“We are first in line to get Dresser, the problem is the site has not yet been given a clean bill of health by the EPA,” Director of Architectural and Engineering Services Jeffrey Downes said.
Due to the lot’s murky history, the Maryland Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stepped in and deemed the lot unsafe for immediate use.
The land was earlier owned by oil field service powerhouse Halliburton and through the years was later sold to DII Industries LLC (DII), most recently used by General Electric (GE). Throughout those various owners, the soil of that property was used as a dumping ground for multiple products including petroleum products and different volatile organic compounds (VOC).
While all industrial work was finished on the property in 2001, the release of different chemicals, cleaning products and more did the damage. Due to the years of release into the soil, the EPA had deemed that the soil is still too hazardous, basically putting a hold on any sale until a few years ago.
“We could have bought this a couple years ago if we had agreed legally to never build student housing there and to never put athletic fields there, just because of the VOCs in the soil,” Downes said. “And we weren’t about to agree to that because that knocks out about 60 percent of our opportunities.”
Currently, the SU Foundation has a Memo of Understanding (MoU) in place to officially take ownership of the lot once it is given approval from the EPA.
The hope among various SU officials is that the property will be released to the university relatively soon, but are also aware that it has been 10 years since the initial purchase was agreed upon.
With various large-scale projects being discussed for the future of campus, SU is eager to finally come to own this property opening up a handful of opportunities.
The future recreation center, an athletic field house, more housing and the rumored fine arts center are among the top listed projects that could potentially settle on that Dresser lot. Though Downes feels currently that the most likely option would be another parking garage.
The problem with those plans those as Downes explained is the lack of ability to plan, that property has become a variable and the timeline is unknown. Due to that there is no way to officially say what possible building will call the Dresser lot home down the line.
“It’s speculation because number one we don’t know what the time frame will be, it could be another 20 years,” Vice President of Administration and Finance Marvin Pyles said. “We don’t really plan for that because we don’t know when it would become available…but we would have to re-evaluate our master plan.”
Currently, the property is being maintained by DII according to the Hazardous Waste Cleanup page for the lot on the EPA’s website. Along with implementing different corrective measures, there are often groundwater samples submitted to the EPA as well as updates.
Once the ongoing corrective measures are completed a report is expected to be submitted to the EPA in order to reassess the property.
A statement from Dresser Industries, LLC explained that the company has been working extensively with the EPA in order evaluate the environmental conditions at the facility.
“Further work is occurring to evaluate long-term cleanup objectives for the facility and mechanisms for achieving those objectives,” the statement read. “The remediation and ultimate redevelopment of the facility will ensure that the future use of the facility is protective for all users and that our environment is cared for.”
While the SU Foundation awaits that final day to come, they also maintain contact with GE in order to renegotiate the agreement every three years. Executive Director of the Foundation Jason Curtin understands exactly why this property is such a focus, and knows that the Foundation is ready to go whenever the moment comes.
“It’s a big parcel which is why we’re interested…we’re talking almost 19 acres right across from campus that’s why it’s such an interest to the university,” Curtin said. “We want to be good partners with GE and Dresser and just wait this out.”
Though the murmurings throughout campus are often heard, voicing a desire for many of the projects within the master plan of the university, they are caught in the waiting game much like SU. But eventually, when this property is officially purchased by the university, the real excitement will begin.