New Hyattsville area elementary school clears hurdle
BY SUSIE CURRIE — Demolition of the former Hyattsville Presbyterian Church, at 3120 Nicholson Street, to make way for a new elementary school should begin this month, according to Prince George’s County Public School officials.
The two-story, 87,000-square-foot building, which will be located next to Nicholas Orem Middle School, has a projected enrollment of 792 students in pre-kindergarten through 6th grade. It was designed to address over-enrollment at six nearby elementary schools: Hyattsville, Rosa Parks, University Park, Lewisdale, Thomas Stone and Carole Highlands.
Boundaries for the yet-to-be-named Hyattsville area elementary school haven’t been set; if it opens as scheduled in August 2013, public hearings should begin in fall 2012.
First, it has to get built. Construction is expected to begin this January. To have enough land to build, PGCPS needed adjoining property owners – the City of Hyattsville and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority – to abandon their respective rights-of-way. WMATA has already done so.
But city officials hinged agreement on changing the site plan. As the HL&T reported in August 2009, the city council was opposed to the school’s original site plan because it called for all drivers to enter the campus from Nicholson Street – a one-lane residential street with parking on both sides.
As recently as April 11, a PGCPS presentation to the council still showed Nicholson Street as a school route. A series of meetings, correspondence and votes reiterated the city’s opposition to that idea. And on May 31, councilmembers saw a plan they could live with.
Paul Taylor, the school system’s director of planning and architectural services, unveiled a design that has all vehicular traffic coming in from the north. Other changes: widening the sidewalk from 4 to 6 feet, adding a third traffic lane that will separate buses from cars, adding a fence and landscape buffer to the parking lot, and installing a plaza bordering Nicholson Street.
“What this plan does is make sure that people can get in and out fairly quickly. Traffic is separated in a way to prevent stacking up,” said Mayor Marc Tartaro, before the council voted unanimously to approve the request to vacate the rights-of-way. Approval is contingent on a signed agreement from the school board that the proposed changes will indeed be made.
During the meeting, Council President Matt McKnight (Ward 3) pointed out that the plaza might become a dropoff point.
“Some people are going to drop-off on Nicholson no matter what,” he said later. “But I think the new design will make doing so less inviting.” Also, he added, “we have to leave pedestrian access from Nicholson open somewhere for walkers.”
Paula Perry represents Ward 4, where the school will be located. “As far as parents pulling up and dropping off, I’d like to make part of [Nicholson Street] no stopping or standing,” she said in an interview.
Currently, Editors Park Drive also allows parking on both sides.
“We may have to limit that when it becomes the main vehicular route for two schools,” said Tartaro. “Maybe by getting rid of parking on that street, or only allowing it during certain hours.”
The parking lot will be in roughly the same area it is now, adjacent to Nicholson Street. During the meeting, Perry called for more regulation during off hours.
“I want the school; I know we need the school,” said Perry during the meeting. “But I still have concerns about the parking lot. My residents have had to put up with music blaring from cars in the lot for a long time.”
Later, she said that “even when the church was still there, the parishioners had to have stickers [on their cars] so we’d know who belonged there. The noise from the parking lot would be so loud, they couldn’t even have services.”
City Administrator Gregory Rose said that the agreement with the county would, if necessary, authorize Hyattsville police officers to enforce the city’s noise ordinance on school property.