Thursday, January 20, 2005

Rendell seeks longer pledge for law school

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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Rendell seeks longer pledge for law school

Of The Patriot-News

Gov. Ed Rendell reiterated yesterday that he wants Penn State University to keep a Dickinson School of Law campus in Carlisle for a "more significant number of years" than the 10 Penn State has guaranteed. Rendell has committed $25 million in state funds for redevelopment of the Carlisle campus as part of a dual-campus plan. The money would come from the capital budget, which typically is funded by 20-year bonds.

An administration aide said, "If we're going to pay for 20 years for a project ... you presume that it has at least a 20-year usable life."

Rendell said at a midday news conference yesterday that Penn State's commitment doesn't have to be permanent.

"There is no permanent. That's unenforceable," he said. "If the school starts to lose students and nobody wants to go to it, it doesn't matter what you put in writing."

Rendell declined to set a minimum commitment that would clear the way for state funds, saying, "That's a matter of negotiation."

The Cumberland County Redevelopment Authority, which is the conduit for the state money, will meet tomorrow to consider conditions for state help that its staff has negotiated with Penn State.

Authority officials refused to reveal any of the proposed terms yesterday. The authority's decision will be reviewed by Rendell before the state money is released, and the governor may impose additional conditions.

Rendell Administration officials said they expect the grant agreement ultimately will expand upon Penn State's previously agreed- to guarantee to operate a Carlisle campus through June 30, 2015.

"If the conversations and e-mail traffic that I've been part of hold true, it will be longer than 10 years," senior administration officials said.

On Saturday, the law school's board of governors approved a dual- campus plan negotiated with Penn State that would see a new $60 million law campus open in State College as early as 2008, coupled with a $40 million renovation of the school's home in Carlisle.

That agreement also effectively abolishes the law school board and gives Penn State "complete and unfettered operational authority" over the law school.

The Carlisle portion of the dual-campus proposal would be financed through the combination of $10 million from Penn State, a targeted capital campaign, and a grant from the state of up to $25 million.

Rendell said yesterday that the state money can only be applied to the Carlisle renovations.

Penn State officials, who have signaled their acceptance of the authority's proposed conditions, also did not disclose details yesterday.

The 171-year-old law school's future has been in turmoil since late 2003, when Penn State proposed moving Dickinson to the university's main campus in State College.

Law school Dean Philip McConnaughay contended that closer interaction with the university would enhance students' education and job prospects and improve the school's national rankings.

Officials also said the Trickett Hall campus is over-crowded, lacks adequate library space and doesn't meet standards for access for people with disabilities.

But many Carlisle community leaders and segments of the law school's alumni said the relocation plan -- coming just three years after Dickinson's affiliation with Penn State -- was something akin to a raid by the state's largest university on a historic institution.

The two-campus plan was approved on a 17-14 vote.


ILLUSTRATION; Caption: Gov. Ed Rendell wants Penn State University to keep a Carlisle campus for The Dickinson School of Law for at least as long as it would take to pay for state funding of any improvements, such as the above concept by an architectural firm.

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