New funding strategy may expedite HES, HMS projects
By BEN SIMASEK — As Hyattsville’s population continues to grow and its schools age, local officials and advocates are coordinating closely with Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) to ensure that the area’s education facilities meet the needs of young students.
By the 2021 school year, PGCPS projects Hyattsville Elementary School (HES) will exceed its state-rated capacity by 39% and Hyattsville Middle School (HMS) by 27%, assuming it begins to accommodate all sixth-graders within the school boundary (currently, some feeder elementary schools house sixth-graders who then enter HMS starting in seventh grade). Even if HMS were to grow to serve all sixth-grade students within its boundary, elementary school enrollment in the Hyattsville/Riverdale area is still expected to exceed current facility capacity by nearly 300 students within the next three years. Both HES and HMS have supplemented their learning space with temporary buildings, but more permanent solutions are necessary.
Beyond the capacity constraints, several other factors place HES and HMS high on the county’s list for investment. PGCPS’s 2017 Educational Facilities Master Plan (EFMP) includes assessments of the schools’ physical conditions and educational adequacy, which encompasses factors such as accessibility, configuration, security, technology, acoustics, lighting and furnishings.
HES (built in 1935) and HMS (built in 1938), both reside in old buildings that are deteriorating and heading towards obsolescence. HMS Parent Teacher Student Organization President Justine Christianson, who has two children enrolled at HMS, mentioned the leaky windows and roof and pipe condensation issues among many physical problems with the middle school, but she expressed relief that the gym roof is scheduled to be replaced at the end of January.
Christianson cited these conditions and overcrowding in area schools as major drivers for engagement on these issues among the county, city and local residents. She also lamented that HMS’s space barriers to sixth-grade realignment limit sixth-graders from participating in the school’s renowned Creative and Performing Arts Program. She remains optimistic that progress is on the horizon. “I think parents of younger children should know that county and city elected officials and PGCPS staff recognize the dire need,” Christianson said. “There is a lot of work being done within the PGCPS Capital Improvements office to develop a plan that will provide relief in Hyattsville and surrounding areas within the next three to six years, but it will take advocacy on the part of city residents and our elected officials to make it happen.”
The initial version of the EFMP proposed renovations that would address physical conditions and additions to HES and HMS to increase student capacity at both. However, the FY 2019 amendment to the plan outlines the county’s new strategic delivery model to expedite financing and construction via Public/Private Partnership (P3) agreements, which would allow PGCPS to lease newly built school buildings from private entities. Under this new strategy, HES and HMS could be replaced within the next five years. (A new Adelphi-area high school with a capacity of 1,700, which would partially relieve Northwestern High School’s demand for student space, is also proposed in the plan.) This P3 strategy was presented at a school board meeting on May 10, 2018, and a report with implementation recommendations is expected to be released in early 2019.
According to PGCPS Public Information Officer John White, it is still too early to estimate a timeline for new Hyattsville-area school construction, given that nine other county schools are slated for renovation or replacement first. “We are hopeful that we can include the Hyattsville school projects in future State Capital Improvement Program (CIP) funding requests, possibly in the next five years,” says White.
More support from state resources will help. Maryland’s Building Opportunity Fund, announced by Governor Larry Hogan this past December, will provide an additional $1.9 billion boost from casino revenue to the $1.6 billion already budgeted in the state’s CIP for public school construction across the state over the next five years. According to County Board of Education Chair Alvin Thornton, the funds will help the county achieve its priorities for school construction, but it has yet to be determined what portion of these resources will be allocated to PGCPS.
Currently, the City of Hyattsville is seeking residents knowledgeable in local public school needs, architecture, land use, urban planning and PGCPS policy to serve two-year terms on a new Education Facilities Task Force, which will help ensure school infrastructure needs are met. The task force will share updates on its progress and any recommendations for action with the city council at least once a year.