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Next steps for Hyattsville Middle School depends on PGCPS RFP

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Posted on: July 29, 2019

By SOPHIE GORMAN ORIANI — Excitement is mounting over the possibility of building a new Hyattsville Middle School (HMS), but some confusion over the process still remains. 

As reported by the Hyattsville Life & Times in June, the current school is in a state of extreme disrepair — bathrooms lack doors, fire alarms don’t work properly, and the building suffers significant mold issues. 

In a presentation to the Hyattville City Council on June 3, Dan Broder, chairman of the city’s Educational Facilities Task Force (EFTF), said that students and teachers report negative health effects from the state of the building. He explained in an email to the HOPE (Hyattsville Organization for a Positive Environment) email group that a pilot public-private partnership, or P3, may pave the way to replacing the decrepit building, which has greatly suffered from what Broder says is Prince George’s County’s $8.5 billion backlog of school construction and repairs. With this new pilot program, a private developer would provide the funding to build a new middle school, and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) would pay the developer back, similarly to the way a mortgage is paid back. 

“We have an opportunity to secure funding for HMS using Alternative Construction Financing (ACF) within the next funding cycle. ACF is a method of building schools where PGCPS submits a Request For Proposals (RFP) to developers and construction companies to build a new middle school,” Broder noted in an email. P3 financing is one type of ACF.

When PGCPS approached the City of Hyattsville about the possibility of acquiring P3 funding to rebuild the middle school, the city convened the EFTP to identify parcels of land large enough for a new school. Broder presented the findings to the Hyattsville City Council on June 3. The task force identified several possible sites, but due to the tight timeline, they were instructed by PGCPS to limit themselves to sites owned free and clear by the city or county.

Due to this restriction, there are only two potential sites: the location of the current school on 42nd Avenue and Magruder Park. Capital Improvement Program Officer Elizabeth Chaisson explained that PGCPS prefers a 20-acre lot for a middle school, although they are willing to consider smaller parcels within the Beltway.

Controversy began to mount, as residents reacted on area email groups to the potential loss of parkland which would occur if a new middle school were to be built in Magruder Park. Over 500 local residents have signed an online petition urging leaders to find a way to replace the middle school while protecting park space. But Broder cautions that nothing is certain. The first step, he says, is to wait until PGCPS puts out an RFP, calling for developers to submit proposals for a new school building. 

“This is the mystery. We don’t know what the RFP is going to contain,” said Broder, who clarified that he did not speak on behalf of the City of Hyattsville. “This is a pilot program, and I’m not certain what’s going to be piloted in terms of the RFP specifically. We know the outline of the program, but we don’t know … what it’s going to ask for, such as the location, the cost, amenities, service level agreements. We just won’t know until we see the RFP.”

The RFP is expected to be finished in late July or early August. While it could specify a location for the proposals to focus on, it may leave both options on the table.

In a July 22 email, Raven Hill, a communications officer for PGCPS, wrote No decision has been made regarding the specific schools to be included in the public-private partnership program, but our standard processes include opportunity for public input.” In a July 24 email, she elaborated that “there are usually a minimum of six opportunities for the public to provide input over the course of the project.”

If the P3 funding does not go through, Broder said, HMS will remain in the pipeline for traditional funding, but it will take many years to secure such funding. Hyattsville Elementary is in line ahead of HMS for traditional funding. Site estimates may begin in 2023, six years later than originally planned.

As residents wait to discover what is contained in the RFP, discussions continue about what the best option for the new school might be. Some residents are distressed by the thought of losing parkland and about the environmental issues wrapped into building on a floodplain. Others are concerned about the disruption to students and residents in the neighborhood if the new middle school is built on the current school’s location. People on both sides of the argument can agree on one thing, however: Replacing the middle school in necessary and must happen soon.

“I’ve been really encouraged that everyone on the [HOPE] listserv, when we’ve been having this discussion, is thoroughly in agreement that a new school is needed,” said Broder. “The conditions are, honestly, they’re really just unworthy of a city and a society that is purported to value education, … and the kids suffer the worst.”

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