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Marymount California University shutters Lake County campus without warning

Marymount California University has abruptly closed its Lake County campus in Lucerne, leaving the county scrambling to come up with a new plan for the massive, nearly century-old former hotel.

The Southern California-based, private nonprofit university did not notify county officials or local university staff and students, who are on summer break, before removing its equipment and furniture from the building last week.

They left “like thieves in the night,” said Supervisor Rob Brown. “I thought it was pretty cowardly.”

Marymount California University President Lucas Lamadrid said in an email Wednesday to The Press Democrat that the university's board of directors voted June 10 to close the campus, and students, staff and county administrators were notified three days later, after the furniture was removed.

Lamadrid cited poor enrollment - the school had just 26 undergraduate students last semester - for the campus closure. He said in his email that students will be able to continue their education online or at another of the school's two campuses. Lamadrid said “any scholarship funds” will still be applied to students' educational costs.

The departure of the school is a blow to the county, which owns the cavernous building dubbed the Lucerne Castle. The county spent about $4.5 million in primarily redevelopment funds since 2010 to buy and rehabilitate the 50,000-square-foot, three-story structure in hopes of jump-starting the town's moribund economy.

To lure the university to Lake County, officials granted it a five-year, $1-a-year lease set tentatively to expire in 2019, but it was expected to be extended. Earlier this year the county added further incentives, including covering 20 percent of the building's electric and propane bills. The university was only using 8,000 square feet of the structure because of low enrollment.

Supervisor Jim Steele, whose district includes the former hotel, said he only learned of the school's departure through the media.

“It's a little bit of in your face,” Steele said. “They're not too popular with us right now.”

Steele suspects part of the reason for the abrupt closure was a change in the university's leadership and priorities in early 2016, when Lamadrid came on board.

The university's main and satellite campus sites - totaling about 1,000 students - are located in and near Palos Verdes.

The Lake County campus primarily offered two-year programs to transfer students for bachelor's degrees in psychology, liberal arts and business, with focuses on faith and community service. Students were expected to obtain their associate degrees at local community colleges.

The university's sudden pullout is another blot in the hotel's history.

Built in the 1920s as part of a grand vision that included a housing development, the hotel didn't survive the Depression before briefly opening in 1938, only to close the next year.

It was purchased in 1968 by the San Francisco Baptist Theological Seminary, which utilized the property for retreats and youth camps until another economic slump led to the county's purchase of it in 2010 for $1.35 million.

Steele said there may be another private university interested in taking Marymount's place, but county administrators and some other supervisors would prefer to sell the building and get out of the landlord business.

“But who are you going to sell it to?” Steele wondered.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 707-462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter.

Editor's note: This story has been revised to correct information about the share of electric and propane costs covered by Lake County for the Lucerne campus. It is 20 percent.

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