HYATTSVILLE – Hyattsville residents voiced concerns last week about a proposed plan to build a new Hyattsville Middle School (HMS) at Magruder Park.
During a June 3 public hearing, Daniel Broder, chairman of the city’s Educational Facilities Task Force (EFTF), presented the pros and cons of two site options for replacing the dilapidated school: rebuilding on the current site or building a new school at Magruder Park.
“The conditions that the kids at HMS deal with today are absolutely appalling and shameful,” Broder said, highlighting moldy pipes, bathrooms with no doors and poor ventilation at the school’s current location.
Justine Christianson, president of the school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Organization, said during the hearing that the school currently has 956 students in a building rated for 820 students.
Additionally, she said, it was discovered that the building had inoperable fire sprinklers and alarms after a third-floor heating vent caught fire last Friday.
“These are the conditions that this community’s children go to school in every day and (these are) the conditions that our staff has to work in,” Christianson said.
Although Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) already own the current site, the locations 9.41 acreage is less than half of the county’s recommended acreage for a middle school.
Elizabeth Chaisson, a planner with PGCPS, said the county aims for 20 acres per site in its educational facilities master plan. While she said this is the norm outside of the Beltway, inside the Beltway, many schools are located on smaller sites.
“Yes, it can be done, but it is a more urban way of doing it,” she said. “ D.C. does it all the time.”
Broder also said the utilization of the current site would only further exacerbate existing parking and traffic issues. The lack of swing space during the construction phase could distract from student learning.
While relocating to Magruder Park would afford more space, the park is located within a flood plain, which would add increased time and cost to the project as mitigation strategies developed, Broder said. Relocation to the park would also result in a loss of open community space, he said.
The accelerated timeline for replacing the school comes amid the potential of obtaining alternative construction financing for the project through the use of public-private partnership (P3) funding, said City Administrator Tracey Douglas.
P3 contracts, according to the PGCPS website, reduce “significant risks to taxpayer resources” through an agreement with a public agency and private partner.
Currently, PGCPS has among it the state’s second-oldest school facilities, with more than 40% of its buildings constructed about 60 years ago, according to the website.
Douglas said a request for proposal could be issued for the project as early as late next month or early August.
Hyattsville residents spoke out mostly against the idea of relocating the school to Magruder Park, citing the potential loss of open community and green space.
“I do understand that there are a lot of difficulties with rebuilding the school on its current site,” said Michael Gorman, who said he was concerned about the loss of wildlife in the park. “But those are going to be temporary. It’s a hassle, it’s a pain, and then it’s over with…but once those trees go, they’re gone.”
While she acknowledged there was “no good option” in the choice between the two locations, Christianson said the use of swing space might be more than a temporary hassle for students.
“They only are going to be in sixth, seventh and eighth grade once,” Christianson said. “That is their education for middle school, so for them, it’s not temporary.”
Thornton Boone, the school’s principal, spoke in favor of a new building,
“This is a beautiful city, it’s a growing city, and a city of diversity and I would like our kids to have pride when they come into the building,” Boone said.