UPPER MARLBORO – Over the last year the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Capital Improvements team has done a great deal of work – from installations of new turf fields and new HVAC systems to building and renovating schools.
However, the focus of the first Prince George’s County Board of Education meeting of the new school year was not so much what has been accomplished, but what more needs to be done in the capital improvements program (CIP).
“Capital programs is in charge of making sure students have the facilities they need to be successful and that’s, of course, what education is all about,” said Elizabeth Chaisson with the PGCPS Capital Improvements department. “We have more than 300 active facility improvement projects that capital programs and building services staff are currently working on. Much of our work is completed over the summer months so in September more projects will be finished.”
Throughout the past year Chaisson said the department tackled more than 69 compliance and code projects, three pod conversions, three renovations or replacements, 25 systematic projects and 11 other miscellaneous projects. Some of those tasks included upgrades to kitchen grease traps, fire alarm replacement, conversions of classroom space to accommodate secondary school reform classes such as culinary arts, aviation and bioscience, three roof replacements and turf fields.
This summer, four additional high schools received a brand new turf field for their upcoming athletic season. Charles H. Flowers, Northwestern, Eleanor Roosevelt and Bowie high schools each saw an installation.
Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer of PGCPS, said the fields were funded from multiple sources, which allowed the school system to move forward with four instead of the usual two. He also noted the schools were selected based off a number of factors including comparing the list made by state leaders to the upcoming CIP list for replacement high schools. That is why schools like High Point and Suitland high schools, which are on the list of projects in the next decade, did not get new fields.
“It’s all contingent on funding,” Maxwell said. “For this particular year we received some funding from the Redskins Foundation and the county to do some fields.”
In total, more than 100 CIP and maintenance projects were completed during the past year and over the summer. Chaisson said approximately 40 percent of the 326 open projects and requests are actively in construction or nearing completion.
Two of those completed just this summer include the new Fairmont Heights High School and the renovated Glenarden Woods Elementary School. Both schools open to students next week on the first day of school.
Still, Chaisson said there is much more to do.
PGCPS is still working toward realizing the goals set forth in its educational facilities master plan, which they refer to as the EFMP. That plan broke down the information gathered through the master plan support project to create a planned three cycles of capital improvements from 2017 until 2036, with each cycle estimated to cost approximately $3 billion.
Chaisson said a significant portion of the first cycle, which includes 32 projects, includes plans to address overcrowding and fix or replace the most dilapidated schools in the county.
“Our strategies remain the same. We are ramping up to full or limited modernization of the older schools across the county,” Chaisson said. “We’re addressing the over-utilization by building new schools, addressing under utilization through planning studies and we have a balanced range of project types across the county.”
Over the next five years, PGCPS hopes to build five new schools, renovate or replace 13 elementary, 10 middle and three high schools and modernize one student instructional center. Some of those renovations or replacements include Suitland and High Point high schools, William Wirt, Kenmoor and Hyattsville middle and Calverton, Templeton and Longfields elementary schools.
But while the school system is asking for more money to address aging infrastructure and a growing student population, both Chaisson and Maxwell said PGCPS has to prove to the state that it is using its CIP money wisely. That means it has to prove the school system needs the money to build new schools and renovate old ones – a hard sell when the state sees several schools under-utilized throughout the county.
“The state won’t go through a project if you haven’t redistricted and used the available space that you have in other schools,” Maxwell said. “The reality is that unless you use the under-utilized space that you have available, they won’t allow you to get state funding.”
For the current fiscal year, the state approved 65 systemic projects ranging from $129,000 to $3 million, which included planning money for the William Wirt replacement. However, the CIP office notes that many projects continue to be pushed back or put on hold due to lack of funding. Nearly 15 percent of the current CIP program are on hold due to either lack of funding or vacancies in critical staff areas.
PGCPS has seen small but consistent growth in funding from the sate and county, but Chaisson said for PGCPS to address all of the growing issues and limitations with its current building inventory, significant investment will have to be made.
“We’re getting more money each year since 2014, but it’s still only about half as much as we need. It’s half of what we requested,” she said.
For the 2019 fiscal year the estimated CIP is around $310.5 million split between a $78.2 million request to the state and a $232.3 million request of the county. That money would go toward a new Suitland High and William Wirt Middle schools, multiple HVAC replacements, pod conversions and new garages for bus maintenance.
Beyond budget requests, Chaisson said the capital improvements office will continue to carry out boundary, enrollment and site location studies to determine future movements. One such study includes the possibility of a new elementary school in the Fairwood community. Three residents of Fairwood and three state leaders who represent the area came out to speak about the possible new school, which they said had been promised for years.
“The bottom line is a promise was made in 2003. This school system owns 15 acres, which is where Fairwood school should be built,” said State Sen. Joanne Benson. “Part of the agreement for these people moving into the community was that there was going to be an elementary school. It’s now 2017. There has been a tremendous increase in housing development, which has resulted in a steady increase in students.”
The two nearby elementary schools, Glenndale and Woodmore Elementary schools, are currently severely over crowded and seeing declining enrollment, respectively. Chaisson said the school system is looking into possibilities in the area that may include closing Woodmore, which is in desperate need of repair, and relocating students to a brand new Fairwood-area school.
“If the school is falling apart, which Woodmore is not in good condition, rather than replace it in an area where you have declining enrollment, why not replace it, rebuild it, in an area where you have the demand,” Chaisson said.
Nothing is set in stone, however, as PGCPS is just in the beginning stages of boundary studies for this year.