UPPER MARLBORO – In the final meeting before heading to summer recess, the Prince George’s County Council unanimously passed a minor amendment that will allow the reexamination of the historical designations of two buildings currently sitting in downtown Upper Marlboro.
The Old Marlboro Primary School and Old Marlboro High School, which sit next to each other on a 6.7-acre lot on Elm Street, were listed as the two historical sites in a proposed resolution by Councilmembers Derrick Leon Davis (District 6) and Sydney J. Harrison (District 9).
According to legislative officer Karen Zavakos, the council is granted authority to take action on zoning matters by the State of Maryland Regional District Act, which historical designations fall under.
According to Zavakos, the cemetery of Dr. William Beanes, a doctor who helped U.S. soldiers during the Revolutionary War and instrumental in the creation of the Star-Spangled Banner, will not be removed from its current site, which is sitting next to the primary school.
“It shall not be disturbed and shall be preserved,” Zavakos said.
The Primary School was built in 1896 and was originally a school for girls. In later years, it was converted into a residence as well as housing the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office. The high school was constructed in 1921 and closed in 1975.
It was not confirmed during the hearing what the site would become if the two schools were removed. The Town of Upper Marlboro released a statement disagreeing with the council’s decision to remove the schools.
“The Town of Upper Marlboro Stands firmly against this move and is geared up to face the county at every step of this process,” the statement said. “We ask that all concerned residents reach out to the two Upper Marlboro county councilmembers who are sponsoring this county resolution to voice their concerns and make your voices heard.”
After being passed, both the county’s planning board and council must hold a joint public hearing on the proposal. According to the amendment, the date for the hearing is scheduled for Sept. 17. After the meeting, written testimony can also be submitted to the planning board that will provide a recommendation to the council on how to proceed further.
If the planning board votes in favor of removing the designation, the council can proceed forward with the legislation, according to Zavakos.
Upon reading the council’s decision to remove the historical designations on the two landmarks, Prince George’s County Historic Preservation Commission Chair John Peter Thompson said he was “surprised” to see the topic being discussed.
“This opens up the process that we can go in to remove a historical designation on a site, something that has never been done,” Thompson said. “Normally, the normal process is to wait for the historic site district sector to come up every 10 years or so and it is in that process where historic preservation countywide is included and listed.”
This is not the first time that the county has attempted to remove the two schools in Upper Marlboro.
In 2013, county officials told The Washington Post that it had planned for 18 months to tear down the buildings without knowing that they were placed in the historic registry.
Monica Johnson, then-director of the county’s Office of Central Services, told the publication that the county was looking to build a family justice center and a new headquarters for the sheriff’s office.
“Now that (the building’s historic status) has come to our attention, we realize there’s a process that needs to be taken,” Johnson said in 2013.
Prince George’s County Historical Society Librarian Susan G. Pearl stated that meetings were held in 2013, but the county dropped the plans after dozens of residents protested against the removal of the schools.
Councilmember Dannielle Glaros (District 3) mentioned the county’s attempts to do any type of development in similar situations. She supported the amendment because it was essential to have the conversation and to gather the opinions of the local community on the topic.
“Frankly, after seeing some tough challenges that have happened in Ms. Deni Taveras’ district with a property that wanted to do the best by the community but it got tied up the process,” Glaros said.
“So I appreciate that we are going to hear a lot of testimony on it and that is really important in an amendment process, but I think it is important that we have that conversation because this conversation has been percolating in the wings for a very long time.”
On Nov. 27, 2018, a car drove through the Old Marlboro Primary School in an accident, according to the Town of Upper Marlboro Police Department. The car exited the roadway on Governor Oden Bowie Drive and Elm Street at a high rate of speed before driving up the hill where the school sits.
The hole where the car entered was boarded up, but the building has multiple Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement signs stating the building is not safe.
If the historical designations are removed and both schools are torn down, any future development on the site must have input from the Town of Upper Marlboro, Zavakos said.
Councilmember Jolene Ivey announced her decision to support removing the historical designation of the two schools due to their previous history. The schools were built during the time of segregation, and in today’s climate, the site can be better utilized with a different usage, the councilmember said.
“It seems to me that these were segregated schools for the education of white children,” Ivey said. “And in this county today, for the purposes or other purposes that this property can be used for, I am leaning towards supporting changing the designation for this historical site.”