Former labor college campus sold to transit union -- Gazette.Net


The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents bus drivers, light rail operators and other transit workers, has purchased the 46-acre campus of the National Labor College in Silver Spring for $31.4 million and plans to move its headquarters there from Washington, D.C., officials said on Thursday.

ATU will not confer degrees as the labor college did, but will focus on training labor leaders and workers in community organizing and other skills on the campus, said ATU International President Larry Hanley.

The union — which was founded in 1892 and has more than 190,000 members across the U.S. and Canada — will spend a few months doing some renovations before moving about 50 employees to the campus, he said.

“We want to train labor workers from all over,” Hanley said. “Our initial focus will be on our members, but we plan to make the facilities open to other unions and progressive groups.”

The AFL-CIO-affiliated college, which dates to the 1970s, closed in April due to financial difficulties. Officials last December reached a tentative agreement to sell the campus to Washington, D.C., real estate development firm Monument Realty. But that was not finalized, as officials said ATU made a higher offer.

In June, a Monument affiliate, MR Acquisitions II LLC, sued the National Labor College to block the college from completing the sale to ATU. A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge denied Monument’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on July 25.

That legal issue “has not yet been resolved,” Pam Zandy, a Monument spokeswoman, said on Thursday. She declined to comment on the sale.

On July 23, the Maryland Board of Public Works voted 2-1 to approve the sale and forgive claims worth almost $3 million granted by the state for improvements and capital equipment at the college. The agreement between the state and college prohibits the college from selling the property without Board of Public Works approval and calls for the grants to be paid back to the state if the campus is sold.

The college will use proceeds from the sale of the property toward obligations to Bank of America, which holds a first lien on the campus, James Gentile, general counsel for the labor college, told the board, according to a transcript.

“The net proceeds will actually be less than the amount that is owed to Bank of America,” Gentile said. Bank officials have agreed to accept the balance in payment in full of the college’s obligation, he said.

Gov. Martin J. O’Malley cast the board’s lone vote against approving the sale and grant forgiveness plan. He said he wanted to wait until an August meeting to get some questions answered and hopefully work out a plan in which the state would get repaid for the grants.

But Gentile said the threat of foreclosure by the bank and the legal issue with Monument could tie up the sale “if we don’t move.” The two other board members, state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, voted to approve the sale and grant forgiveness.

Gentile said $31.4 million was the best offer the college had. “We originally had hoped and thought that we would be able to sell the property for significantly more money,” Gentile said.

The land is zoned for residential, and the college operated there under a special exemption, he said. That further complicated sales efforts, Gentile said.

Paula Peinovich, president of the labor college, said officials were “very, very pleased not only that we could obtain an offer that would really satisfy the bank,” but that the new owner was a labor organization.

Another potential deal involving 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 to buy the campus fell through last year after the housing commission pulled out. Gentile said that offer was around $27 million.

The labor college has been the “preeminent training facility for organized labor” over the past four decades, and ATU may use some of its former professors, Hanley said. “It will be a more basic learning environment,” he said, adding that the union plans to expand on the college’s legacy.

The property was once owned by a Roman Catholic religious order, the Xaverian Brothers. The AFL-CIO purchased it in 1971 and 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 land is on New Hampshire Avenue near the Beltway in an area that is part of a new master plan for White Oak passed by the County Council on Tuesday. The property, which includes dormitories, classrooms, offices and a conference center, was valued by the state at $45.7 million as of July.

ATU is a member of the AFL-CIO, as well as the national labor organization of Canada.

The college has a teach-out plan with some other institutions, including Penn State, to allow about 200 students who did not graduate last semester to take classes there and transfer them back to receive an accredited degree from the labor college. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education approved a plan to allow the labor college to award accredited degrees through Dec. 31, 2015.