UPPER MARLBORO — During the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Board of Education’s public hearing on its 2021-2016 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) on Sept. 12, residents voiced their concerns with the renovations to Hyattsville Elementary School and Middle School, the lack of a turf field at Largo High School and the limited space at John Hanson Montessori School.
Before the public comments, PGCPS Director of Capital Programs Shawn Matlock gave an overview of the CIP and a summary of requests for the fiscal year 2021.
The CIP consists of funding for school construction, renovations and other upgrades to school buildings. According to Matlock, the fiscal year 2021 CIP totals $240 million with $59 million coming from the state and $181 million from the county. Projects in the works include four new schools, modernization of schools, HVAC upgrades as well as funding for feasibility studies and planning and design.
A significant portion of funding in the CIP will go to the construction of four new schools at $89 million. The top project approved by the state in this cycle of the CIP is a new William Wirt Middle School followed by a new Glenridge Area Middle School, a replacement of Cherokee Lane Elementary School and a renovation and addition to the Camp Schmidt Outdoor Education Center.
Other projects in the pipeline that are still awaiting state approval include a new Suitland High School, High Point High School, Northern Adelphi Area High School and a new International High School at Langley Park.
In total, 19 people spoke during the public hearing. Many of the speakers discussed the need to replace Hyattsville Elementary School and Middle School right away due to the overcrowding and deteriorating conditions of the school.
Catarina Correia, whose son attended Hyattsville Elementary School and just started at Hyattsville Middle School, talked about how both facilities have problems such as HVAC issues, busted pipes and overcrowding.
Additionally, there are five temporary classrooms on the playground that have mold and fungus. They also take up space that could be used for the kids to play on, Correia said.
“I did want to emphasize the adverse effects of these issues not only on the health, engagement and learning of the students, but I also want to emphasize how the overcrowding stresses these issues,” she said.
Daniel Broder is the father of a 2-year-old who will one day attend Hyattsville Elementary School. He said he would do anything for his daughter “which is why it is so distressing to me that day in and day out I have to see all of our children in Hyattsville attend schools that have conditions that are completely unacceptable.”
“There are rodents in the cafeterias; there is black mold in exposed pipes, there are fire exits that are tied shut with ropes,” Broder said. “It is a situation that is not worthy of who we are in terms of how we value education in this county.”
Members of the Largo High School football team and their coach, Derron Thomas, also attended the meeting to ask that the board of education to prioritize giving their school a new turf field.
The lack of a turf field causes a myriad of issues for their team ranging from safety to college recruitment chances, Thomas said.
For one thing, the field has poor drainage and holds water which makes the conditions of it dangerous to play on after it rains. Once the mud dries, the field becomes an uneven playing surface which causes concern for injuries such as sprains and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. There are also a lot of small- to medium-sized rocks on the field, which can also lead to injuries.
Also, the field cannot handle the overuse of it. Thomas said that Largo is the only county high school that has six teams using their field as Largo International High School varsity teams also use the playing surface.
With additional use, the field has more wear and tear. He concluded by stating the lack of a turf field hurts Largo’s chances of winning games and its players being recruited by college coaches as they are more likely to look at a team that is on a good field.
“I feel like getting a good turf field will not only benefit the football team but everyone else also,” said Largo senior and student-athlete Jesulayomi Dawodu. “It will help bring more attention to Largo and bring more students here. It will help lessen injuries, and it will help save more money when it comes down to maintaining the field like cutting the grass and things like that.”
At the beginning of the school year, all of the students and staff of Forestville Elementary School were moved into the John Hanson Montessori School building after structural damage found in their building weeks before the first day of school.
With more than 800 students total now housed in the school, parents of John Hanson students told the board that the arrangement is not working and to prioritize building a new school or finding a new building to house Forest Heights Elementary School.
Rebecca Walawender, the parent of 4-year-old twins at John Hanson, described how students from Forest Heights are attending classes in the basement, receiving instruction in the stairwells and her daughter’s speech services moved to the media center due to lack of space. The move to the media center can be disruptive to her daughter when other students are around receiving a different lesson, Walawender said.
Additionally, John Hanson PTSA member Ericka Farrell said administrators from Forest Heights work in closet-sized office spaces and kindergarten classes, which have been combined to save space, are too chaotic for learning.
“The problem here is that nowhere in the capital improvement plan does John Hanson Montessori School appear,” said Walawender. “John Hanson does not have the physical plan to be able to serve as a swing space for other projects that fall apart. Until there is that commitment from the adults that you will address the crumbling infrastructure at John Hanson, those children will continue to be invisible.”