Look for a “For Sale” sign soon to appear on the Harrisburg riverfront property that has served as headquarters for Pennsylvania’s state university system for the past 28 years.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education was given the green light from the General Assembly to sell the Dixon University Center, the nearly 6.5-acre campus that sits along Front Street and stretches across North Second Street. It is named in honor of Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr., a wealthy Philadelphia area philanthropist who was the system’s founding and longtime board chairman.
Next up is looking for potential buyers for the property and the six brick-faced edifices and an underground parking garage on it.
System spokesman David Pidgeon said the system is in the process of selecting a Realtor to handle the sale of the property.
“Selling the Dixon University Center is an important example of the innovation agenda the State System is pursuing, and we appreciate the support of both chambers in the General Assembly,” Pidgeon said. “While the journey to a successful sale is a long one, [the Senate’s vote on Nov. 17] coupled with the House’s approval on Sept. 16 adds to the State System’s growing momentum as it seeks to build a brighter future.”
The system’s board voted in August to ask for legislative permission to sell the underutilized property as part of a cost-saving move. System officials indicated money saved from moving the system offices to a smaller facility would be directed to support ongoing efforts of redesigning the system and its universities.
Board chairwoman Cynthia Shapira said at the time the sale of the Dixon University Center demonstrates the board’s commitment to a top-to-bottom look at the system “and not hold anything sacred.”
The State System purchased the property in 1991 and made substantial renovations to the historic buildings that for decades housed the Harrisburg Academy, one of the nation’s oldest non-public schools.
During the Depression and World War II, David Morrison, executive director of the Historic Harrisburg Association, said in his history of the property, much of the property was sold to the U.S. War Department to use as a training center for the military’s air intelligence service. The property also has been used as the temporary home for Harrisburg Area Community College while its Wildwood Campus was being built.
The sale of this historic property is not the only dramatic change that the system is pursuing these days in its efforts to overhaul the system to keep tuition affordable and adjust to changing demographics and workforce development demands.
The system has begun the exploration of integrating six universities into two separate institutions to put all six schools on a more financially sustainable path. In the western part of the state, Edinboro, California and Clarion universities are being considered to become one institution. In the north central part of the state, Lock Haven, Bloomsburg and Mansfield universities are looking at integration into a single institution.
In each of those groupings, all campuses would remain open but would operate with a single administration, academic program, and faculty. Proposed plans for integrating these two sets of universities is in the process of being developed.
Those plans are expected to be presented to the system’s board in April and will be followed by public hearings and a public comment period before it goes to the system’s board for a final vote. The earliest these potentially integrated students would enroll students would be for the 2022 fall semester.
Jan Murphy may be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.