Four decades after a labor studies center formed on 47 sprawling acres near the Beltway, the National Labor College will conduct its final commencement ceremony Saturday at the Silver Spring campus.
The institution, affiliated with the AFL-CIO, fell on hard financial times in the past few years. Officials thought they had a buyer for the campus last year in a partnership with Reid Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has facilities in Silver Spring and Glenn Dale, and the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County. That would have let administrators move to a smaller space and conduct most courses online.
But that plan fell through after the housing commission pulled out.
Last December, officials announced the closing and a tentative agreement to sell the campus to Washington, D.C., real estate development firm Monument Realty.
“It was with heavy hearts and great emotion that [college board members] took the action that they did based on some hard facts about the financial instability of the college,” college President Paula E. Peinovich wrote on the institution’s blog. Peinovich could not be reached for comment.
Officials have a teach-out plan with some other colleges, including Penn State, to let students who will not graduate this semester transfer to those institutions. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education approved the plan to let the labor college award accredited degrees through Dec. 31, 2015, the college’s website says.
Pam Zandy, marketing manager for Monument Realty, said this week that the firm has not completed the deal to purchase the Silver Spring campus. “We are still in negotiations,” she said.
Monument Realty’s commercial and residential projects include the 255-unit Chase at Bethesda; Executive Plaza, a two-building office complex in Rockville; and Monument Corporate Center, a large office complex in Gaithersburg.
The 47-acre campus “presents a really great opportunity” for the Silver Spring area because it’s such a large, prominent site, said Dan Reed, an urban planner and designer who lives in Silver Spring.
The college has an interesting variety of buildings that could lend themselves to many different uses, and they should be repurposed or preserved, he said.
“I don’t have a strong opinion about what should replace it, but there is an opportunity to give [eastern Montgomery County] residents the amenities they want, like more job opportunities and more places to shop and eat,” Reed said. “I’ve been watching the plans to redevelop the former Walter Reed Hospital [in Washington, D.C.], and I think it could be a model for what we could do here.”
Last year, the labor college donated to the University of Maryland, College Park, its massive George Meany Memorial Archives, the official archives of the AFL-CIO that had been at the Silver Spring campus since 1993. The archives are estimated to have a value of $25 million and contain more than 40 million artifacts, including papers of key labor leaders and official records of AFL-CIO proceedings.
The college land, which includes dorms, classrooms, offices and a conference center, was valued by the state last year at about $45 million.
The property was once owned by a Roman Catholic religious order, the Xaverian Brothers. The AFL-CIO purchased it in 1971, then formally dedicated the George Meany Center for Labor Studies and began offering degree programs for union members in affiliation with Antioch College in 1974.
The college later became an independent degree-granting institution and became the George Meany Center for Labor Studies — the National Labor College.
It has been accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education since 2004.
Enrollment at the college this final semester was about 300 students, according to its website. It has awarded bachelor’s degrees in business administration, labor studies and union leadership, among others, and has been offering more online courses in recent years.
The closing convocation and final commencement ceremony will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Kirkland Center on the Silver Spring campus, with a reception afterwards. Union leaders, alumni and others are expected to attend. It is a ticketed event and not open to the general public, said Laura Barrantes, executive assistant to Peinovich.
The college is expected to formally close the Silver Spring campus on April 30.