LANHAM – With a new hospital on the way, a newly opened, world-renowned resort, a delay for a much anticipated mode of travel, two new council seats voted into being, and tumultuous times for the county school system, 2016 will be a year to remember in Prince George’s County.
And The Sentinel was there to see it all. Here are the Top Five stories of 2016, from where we sit.
1. Abuse allegations rock Prince George’s County Public Schools
In February, news broke that a now-former school aide had allegedly sexually abused children at Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School and created child pornography. Deonte Carraway, the aid in question, was charged with approximately 270 counts of child sexual abuse, sexual offenses and child pornography.
Since then, PGCPS formed an emergency task force to ensure student safety, has implemented new and revised policies to prevent further abused, and has retrained employees.
However, the school system was again marred by controversy when it was announced the federal government was in the process of rescinding PGCPS’ Head Start Grant after the school system failed to fully address concerns laid out by the Administration for Children and Families.
In response to the probable loss of the more than $6 million grant, the school system decided to relinquish the grant rather than fight the decision. Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell later announced the school system would move forward with a similar program named Early Start, which would provide the same services.
The PGCPS office of Head Start was eliminated but services to children continued, uninterrupted.
2. MGM National Harbor finally opens
On Dec. 8, MGM National Harbor opened its doors to Prince George’s County and to the national capital area after years of work.
Although the construction of the facility only took two years, there was a larger battle just to get the casino and resort approved in the area. The push for Prince George’s County to become home to the casino began in 2012 as the Maryland General Assembly worked on a compromise and the citizens of Prince George’s County took to the voting booths to weigh in.
Of the deals made, probably the most important to Prince George’s County was the Community Benefit Agreement, which details local hiring quotas and how MGM International will serve the county.
So far MGM has met and exceeded goals for using local businesses and contractors as well as minority businesses. The company also exceeded in hiring locals for day-to-day operations.
The completed resort and casino cost approximately $1.4 billion to construct, and it holds many treasures within, including a robust showing of local art. The entire building stands at 1.7 million square feet with a 24-floor hotel tower that includes 308 rooms.
Also included in the property are celebrity chef restaurants, 3,300 slot machines, 39 poker tables, a 3,000-seat theater, a 500,000-square-foot convention space, shops and a spa.
3. Regional hospital approved after alterations to original plan
Healthcare is about to change in Prince George’s County now that the regional medial center has been approved.
In October, the Maryland Health Care Commission issued a Certificate of Need, which is the formal document giving the state’s blessing for the project to move forward. This decision came after months of back-and-forth over the specific logistics of the medical center and the actual needs the county has.
Robert Moffit, who had reviewed the plan for the state, had previously expressed reservations about details of the submitted plan, which at the time was proposed at $630 million. In response, planners resubmitted a plan with fewer rooms and a downgraded cost of $543 million.
Although the approval of the hospital was celebrated county and statewide, the hospital has a few more hurdles to jump. An interim management board for the hospital under is expected to form in March, if not earlier.
Groundbreaking on the regional medical center could begin as early as this coming summer and the hospital is expected to be up and running by 2020.
4. Metro woes create uncertainty for future of Purple Line
The Purple Line contract was approved in April, but the effort to get the line rolling has faced multiple delays throughout the year after a group in Montgomery County sued to have the line stopped.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon put a hard pause on the Purple Line after asking the state to submit a supplementary environmental impact statement for the line, stating that the recent failings of the Metro System would deeply impact the line.
The judge noted the decreasing number of Metro riders would factor into the impact of the Purple Line, since the light rail system would stop at and share some Metro stations.
However, the state appealed the judge’s decisions, claiming the jurist did not have authority to require the Maryland Transit Administration to complete another environmental impact statement, though he could suggest it.
Judge Leon agreed, but restated his request for a supplemental study. So far the state has refused, claiming a new study is not necessary.
Construction on the line was set to begin in October in Prince George’s County and though official ground breaking has not occurred, the Maryland Transit Administration and the Purple Line Transit Partners have conducted preconstruction projects along the route.
5. Question D splits the county, but ultimately passes
The 2018 elections are going to be one for the history books in Prince George’s County because of the results from 2016.
When voters took to the polls in November, two-thirds of them voted to add two “at-large” seats to the county council, bringing the total seats to 11.
Although the ballot measure ultimately passed, it wasn’t without fierce debate over the logistics and reasoning behind the possible addition.
Those in favor of the change said the at-large seats would align Prince George’s County with other jurisdictions in the region and increase economic development. Opponents of the measure had objected to the way the issue was handled by the county council, the cost involved and the potential ramifications.
Costs associated with the two new seats and their offices is estimated to total $1 million and some of those against the at-large seats feel current council members could use the new positions as a way to skirt term limits, which the county voters had reaffirmed as important down in the previous election.
However, proponents of the bill were victorious after touting the changes as a way to increase representation for all the districts by having council members who are not focused on the needs of one specific area.