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Big plans for county's biggest campus, Chatham

| Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chatham University, a Shadyside school in financial distress 20 years ago, has grown into the largest campus in Allegheny County and expects to double its enrollment.

"We're now around 2,000 (students)," said Murray Rust, president of Chatham's board of trustees. "We could double that in the foreseeable future."

Last month, the university announced the purchase of a 250,000-square-foot building in East Liberty and the Haber Apartment Building in Shadyside. In May, the Eden Hall Foundation gave Chatham the 388-acre Eden Hall Farm in Richland.

Overnight, Chatham became the largest campus of any school in the county, in terms of acreage, and third only to Slippery Rock University and Allegheny College in the region, said Chatham spokesman Paul Kovach.

"I see it as a logical next step for a university like Chatham that's gotten over its troubles of the past," said Sister Marylouise Fennell, a higher education consultant and former president of what is now Carlow University. "The leadership there is good. It's superb."

In the late 1980s, however, the school foundered. Enrollment plunged to about 500 students, and the school considered going coed. Under the 16-year presidency of Esther Barazzone, the school expanded graduate programs, became a university and maintained a separate women's undergraduate school and coed graduate programs.

Now it's acquiring more land -- in the East End and the North Hills. The rapid growth is spurring university officials to rethink the school's identity.

"We're going to be unique in the country in that we'll have a suburban and rural-feeling campus and an urban one in an intensely urban area," Barazzone said. "Our full intention is to have both sides of the equation continue to operate."

Chatham plans to use the office building at Penn Avenue and Washington Boulevard for its interior architecture, landscape architecture, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy and physician assistant programs. Graduate students will live in the Haber building.

The university will probably hire a consultant to design a master plan for use of the farm. The school has hired Pat King Jackson, a Washington consultant, to do a feasibility study for a capital campaign that would address the Shadyside and Eden Hall campuses.

The farm -- the summer residence of Sebastian Mueller, a vice president and director of the H.J. Heinz Co. -- consists of a stucco and brick house, a lodge with a kitchen and guest rooms, a swimming pool, a barn, caretaker's home and smaller buildings.

Under terms of the agreement with the foundation, Chatham will spend about $300,000 a year to run the farm and another $200,000 a year on capital improvements.

Barazzone predicted that Chatham will be a full-service campus with its own residence halls, but she offered no timetable.

"This will be the first campus I'm aware of that will be green from the ground up," she said. "We're interested in creating an eco-village with water recycling and organic foods."

The university will use the farm to work with its neighbor, Richland Upper Elementary School, which will open this fall.

Chatham's expansion is attracting attention from outside observers.

"The niche they have is an excellent undergraduate women's college and a strong graduate program for adult students," said Don Francis, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania. "The gift of the farm would give them opportunities to broaden and strengthen their programs."

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