TEMPLE HILLS — At-Large County Council Member Mel Franklin held an Advisory Neighborhood Committee (ANC) meeting to discuss with residents the importance of filling out the 2020 Census and gave an update on the construction of a new Suitland High School on July 11.
The ANC meeting was one of the 11 meetings that are planned for the summer ANC session, Franklin said. The purpose of the meetings are to connect the community with local government as well as discuss similar and different issues and neighborhoods all over the county face.
“These Advisory Neighborhood Community meetings are about grabbing those issues and trying to work with the communities to improve the quality of life in our area,” Franklin said. “It’s about community engagement, sharing and hearing information.”
This week’s ANC meeting included the communities of Suitland, Greater Temple Hills, Greater Oxon Hill and Forest Heights.
Although 80 people RSVP’d to the meeting, due to severe rain and flooding only about 20 people showed up, but the group still had a robust discussion.
The group first received information on the importance of filling out the 2020 census. According to Franklin, the census is critical to Prince George’s County because the county receives a significant amount of funding at the state and federal level through census information which they rely on when advocating for funding.
Census 2020 Outreach Coordinator Jordan Baucum Colbert and Thomas Johnson from the Office of Community Relations came in to brief residents on their efforts.
After the last census in 2010, Prince George’s County was 2.3% undercounted, Colbert said, which amounted to about $18,000 per person over 10 years in lost funding for schools, jobs, roads, hospitals and more.
Because of this, the Census 2020 Complete County Committee is working to make sure that everyone is counted.
These efforts include a kickoff event on July 17, passing out information at events like National Night Out and Back to School Night, and getting the community involved with helping to spread the word in hard to county areas.
“We are definitely ahead of the game in terms of trying to be prepared,” Colbert said. “We want to have a complete count, but we can’t do it without your help…Being counted means claiming your residency and making sure that you get the federal funds that this county deserves.”
One of the major concerns about the 2020 census is United States of America President Donald Trump’s insistence on including a question about citizenship status.
The question has left county officials concerned that including the question would deter non-residents from answering the census for fear of deportation leading to a loss of funding for the county.
However, Franklin pointed out at the meeting that as of that day, the Trump administration had decided not to pursue including the question anymore, but the decision may not be final.
“If we have an undercount of our undocumented population, what happens is all of the services that population needs, that burden falls on the county…The more accurate the count is, the more resources we get that we should be getting and the less burden will fall on the state and local government.”
Also during the meeting, those in attendance heard from Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Director of Capital Programs Sean Matlock and Board of Education Member K. Alexander Wallace who talked about the progress of construction on a new Suitland High School.
The reconstruction of Suitland High School will be the most expensive redevelopment in PGCPS history, Wallace said, and will include a performing arts school and a comprehensive high school on the site.
The plan for the new Suitland High School reuses most of the existing building and adds a new building to the site. The Career and Technical Learning (CTE) building will be completely demolished as the program is being moved off-campus. Some of the construction in the school will include new interior finishes, window and door replacements, new science equipment and new roofs.
“There is only one high school in the county that gets students from every district, and that is Suitland,” Wallace said. No other school pulls as many students from all over the county, he continued, and that’s why “we need a hands-on approach” to improving the school.
According to Matlock, PGCPS staff have completed a feasibility study of the new school, and the board of education approved it about a month ago. Next, the school system will have to put out a solicitation for their on-call architectural vendors to work on the final design, which takes about a year.
If things go smoothly, construction on the school will start by either the summer or fall of the fiscal year 2021, Matlock said.
Franklin called the new school the Duke Ellington School for the Arts of Prince George’s County and said it will be the county’s “signature performing arts facility.” According to Matlock, the people who have designed the school up to this point also worked on the Washington, D.C.-based performing arts school.
Carol Jones, a member of the Suitland Civic Association, said her daughter graduated from Suitland High School in 1991, but since then the school has deteriorated and has developed a negative reputation.
“To see the school deteriorate like that, and we don’t care anymore, that’s what it seems like…with the new developments that are coming into Suitland now, I mean, it’s long overdue. Twenty-something years overdue. I’m glad to see that,” Jones said.
Jones was also one of several people at the meeting who told Franklin and the PGCPS officials that communication with the public on issues such as this needs to be improved. Jones said she and others she knew were at one time under the impression that the rebuilding of the school was not happening anymore. She said PGCPS has to “keep us informed as progress is made along the way.”