BY T. CARTER ROSS
Throughout Hyattsville, signs of construction are evident everywhere. Ground has been broken and construction activity is ongoing for new homes, mixed-use commercial and residential space, roadway improvements, a new middle school and an extended Trolley Trail. While most of this activity involves private developers or state and county agencies, several city capital improvement projects are in various stages of completion.
Robert J. King Memorial Park redesign
Robert J. King Memorial Park on Gallatin Street has been fenced off since November 2022 in preparation for its redevelopment. With a grassy central area, gazebos and a variety of play structures, the park has long been a popular spot for young children. The city’s renovation plans include improving the site’s stormwater management and updating its play structures and landscaping.
In the redevelopment plans shared on Hello Hyattsville, the city’s community engagement platform, the park would incorporate grassy areas for reading and relaxing, with play equipment for 2- to 5-year-olds filling the center of the park. According to city posts, this would allow for improved stormwater management and provide a buffer between the park and neighboring homes.
Initial comments on the plan appear split between those who like the idea of a small park for younger children and those who see a need for more play equipment in the city for children older than 5. Others voiced concerns about the loss of common green space available to the community. Several commenters raised questions about whether or not St. Jerome Academy’s Montessori program would continue to use the park as a recreation space for students during the school day.
Since closing the park in November 2022, the city has been doing work to prepare for the renovation, including tree repair, root aeration and survey work, according to Hyattsville Public Information Manager Cindy Zork’s Hello Hyattsville posts. In a follow-up phone interview, she said the city expects to start removing the existing playground equipment “soon.”
One possible complication for the site is an underground oil storage tank believed to belong to the Spencer Street School, a predecessor of Hyattsville Elementary School. In 2011, the park was closed for several weeks after installation of a new water fountain disturbed the forgotten tank, spilling old fuel that had not been properly removed from the tank when the school closed in the 1940s. The construction team is using ground-penetrating radar to map the site to help ensure the tank is not an issue.
The city gathered community feedback on the project at an in-person Feb. 23 meeting and via Hello Hyattsville from Feb. 22 through March 6. The city is working with the Low Impact Development Center, which will analyze the public feedback and develop final plans for the site later in the spring. Zork said that the new park is expected to open no later than summer 2024.
A new teen center building
In September 2022, fencing also went up around Nicholson Park and the former commercial building next to it. In 2019, the city purchased the building and adjoining green space for $500,000, with plans to redevelop it as a home for the city’s teen center program.
The fencing went up after neighbors voiced concerns about people loitering around the building and in the park. Since then, Zork said, demolition and reconstruction of the interior of the building has been progressing well. She noted that the building’s old front steps have been removed to install a porch and ramp to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to initial plans released in 2021, the building will include study carrels, a kitchen, breakout spaces and some small meeting rooms. Zork said the city hopes to have reinvention of the building complete in time for the teen center tutoring program to use the space this fall.
The green space around the building will be designed in partnership with the Neighborhood Design Center. Concept drawings for the space are expected in the next few months, according to Zork. She said that the space will be designed as a multigenerational space with more seating and natural areas. The 2021 drawings included a mix of recreation and relaxation spaces, including a handball court, for the site.
New police and public safety facility
Finally, the city’s largest capital improvement project is the new police and public safety facility on Hamilton Street. With an expected completion date of summer 2024, the facility will house the Hyattsville Police Department, along with public meeting spaces and some social services.
When the police move to the new facility, the city will begin work to repurpose space in the Hyattsville Municipal Building. Zork said that the city is planning to commission a space utilization survey in fiscal year 2024 to determine how the vacated space can best be used. Currently, the city staff is out of space on the third floor of the municipal building, so the study will look at both the immediate needs and more long-term plans for the space.
As these projects head towards completion, Zork noted that future improvements to city parks and facilities are in the early planning stages. For example, grant funding is currently being sought for a redesign of Burlington Park. She suggested people keep an eye on the Hello Hyattsville platform for opportunities to provide input on future projects.