Carlisle's hold on The Dickinson School of Law gained strength yesterday with Penn State University committing $10 million to improvements at the campus on College Street. Also at their monthly meeting, Penn State's board of trustees unanimously endorsed without discussion the university's plans to operate the law school in Carlisle while opening a dual campus in State College by 2008. Those plans were approved last week by the law school's board of governors.
Yesterday's developments were aimed at alleviating fears that Penn State would pull out of the Carlisle campus as soon as possible. The future of the 171-year-old law school has been in turmoil since late 2003 when Penn State proposed moving it to the State College campus. School officials said the move could improve the law school's national rankings and job prospects for its graduates.
Under the dual-campus agreement, the Carlisle campus would get $40 million in renovations with $10 million from Penn State, $25 million from the state and the rest from donations. A new $60 million building would house the law school at State College.
University President Graham Spanier announced a "seven-figure" donation was pledged this week toward Penn State's $10 million commitment. He declined to release the donor's name.
"We expect to be in Carlisle for a long term," Spanier said. "It's not a short-term proposition for us. We will invest as heavily as we can there."
Construction on both campuses would start no earlier than fall 2006. Spanier said construction on Trickett Hall would start before any work on the State College campus "to demonstrate our commitment to Carlisle."
Also yesterday, Cumberland County officials signed off on a $25 million request to the state for the Carlisle campus. The county 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.
Spanier said he and Rendell are "precisely on the same wavelength here in our interest in this project."
To receive the $25 million from the state, the university and law school have to raise an equal amount in private donations.
Under the conditions laid out by the 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.
Penn State would also have to repay to Cumberland County all state money going through the authority for the Carlisle campus. The authority could use the state money on any project that would minimize the economic impact of the loss, said Christopher Houston, authority real estate development director.
"That's a positive disincentive," said Carlisle lawyer Hubert Gilroy, a member of the board of governors.
Gilroy was among the board minority who opposed the two-campus proposal.
Penn State had rejected other conditions laid out by the authority, among them a 15-year guarantee for the Carlisle campus, said Christopher Gulotta, authority executive director.
But Gulotta said the Carlisle campus would be "at a disadvantage" without the state funds, because Penn State would only spend $20 million on improvements in Carlisle compared with $60 million for a new campus in State College.
"I think this is something we can live with," Bruce Barclay, chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, said of authority conditions. "We have reassurances from Penn State that it will keep [the Carlisle campus] or write a check."