By Anne Danahy UNIVERSITY PARK -- State College could have its own law school campus in the not-too-distant future.
Penn State's board of trustees approved an agreement Friday with The Dickinson School of Law that calls for up to $40 million in renovations to the law school's Carlisle campus and construction of a second campus at University Park.
Penn State President Graham Spanier said his administration could return to the board as early as September to appoint an architect to work on renovating the Carlisle campus. Renovations there could be finished in as few as four years.
Spanier said plans for the University Park campus could take place at the same time or start soon after the work in Carlisle begins.
"We are very excited about the prospects that lie ahead for us to have one of the most outstanding law schools in the country," he said.
The law school's board of governors voted 17-14 Jan. 15 to approve the memorandum of understanding that laid out the terms of the dual-campus plan.
The university committed to providing $10 million for renovations to the Carlisle campus and plans to work with the law school to raise another $10 million.
Gov. Ed Rendell has said the state will provide as much as $25 million for the project if the university is committed to maintaining a campus in Carlisle.
That state money will match other funding sources. So if Penn State funding and gifts total $20 million, the state would chip in $20 million.
The state money will be administered by the Cumberland County Redevelopment Authority. Spanier announced that the authority voted 5-0 to approve an agreement with the university Friday afternoon on how that money would be administered.
"Finally the stars have been aligned here," Spanier said.
The redevelopment authority placed a condition on going forward with the plan: that Penn State agree to keep the law school in Carlisle for as long as Gov. Ed Rendell wants.
Rendell this week said he wants Penn State to keep the law school in Carlisle longer than 10 years, though he didn't specify how many.
Under the conditions laid out by the Cumberland County officials, if Penn State closes the 638-student Carlisle campus or sells it to an entity other than an institution of higher education -- even after meeting Rendell's minimum time requirement -- the sale proceeds would go to the law school endowment.
The possibility of a two-campus law school has been a source of turmoil for more than a year. Opponents were concerned that Penn State would eventually close the Carlisle campus or that the campus would become a satellite school. Proponents have said a University Park campus will bolster the law school's reputation by attracting top faculty and students and allowing students to work with faculty from other colleges in specialized areas of law.
Spanier said the agreement with the Cumberland County Redevelopment Authority should provide assurance to people in Carlisle that Penn State doesn't plan to desert that campus.
One of the controversial parts of the memorandum of understanding approved by the board of governors and the trustees has been a section that guarantees the law school will maintain a campus in Carlisle until at least 2015. Some Carlisle residents and members of the board of governors wanted that language changed or removed.
Spanier said the university's agreement with the redevelopment authority says that if Penn State were to leave Carlisle and sell the building for a noneducational use, Penn State will have to pay back the expected $20 million in state funds. The redevelopment authority could use the money on any project that would minimize the economic impact of the loss, said Christopher Houston, authority real estate development director.
"I think this is something we can live with," said Bruce Barclay, chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. "We have reassurances from Penn State that it will keep (the Carlisle campus) or write a check."
"We expect to be in Carlisle for the long term," Spanier said. "This is not a short-term proposition for us."
Spanier also said the university has received its first seven-figure commitment toward the $10 million it wants to raise.
Penn State and The Dickinson School of Law became affiliated in 1997. The law school has a separate board of governors that had final authority over the school's location.
Under the new agreement, that board, which has more than 30 members, will be dissolved and a new seven-member board will be formed. Spanier will appoint three members from the current board. Board President H. Laddie Montague Jr. will serve on it and appoint three members.