LAUREL – First day of school outfits, backpacks and school supplies will not be the only things new and exciting as students across the county head back to school.
On Sept. 6, at least three new buildings and one renovated elementary school opened their doors for the first time to hundreds of students fresh from summer break. The new Fairmont Heights High School, a renovated Glenarden Woods Elementary, a brand new College Park Academy and a new Chesapeake Math & IT (CMIT) North High School building all celebrated their first day of school this week.
“The teachers have smiling faces, are very excited, unloading all their stuff,” said Mark Sutherland, the community partnerships director for the Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation (CLF), which runs CMIT. “I’m jealous. I really want to be a student again and go to school (at the new building) because I really felt like I was in a university.”
CMIT is slowly expanding its campus as its student population grows. Though the charter school is a partner with the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) system, it largely functions on its own and handled its own construction process.
The 80,000 square-foot, $22 million building took Chesapeake only six months to build. The steel for the school was installed in February and the doors will open Sept. 6. Ground breaking, however, was in October 2016.
“There’s been 180 guys, any given day, on that site,” Sutherland said. “They have the same name when I walk through. I say, ‘miracle workers. Hello miracle workers!’ I just call them all miracle workers because that’s what happened – an absolute miracle.”
The idea to build a new build predates Sutherland’s tenure with CLF, but he said the expansion has been a top priority for the charter foundation. And, there were a number of reasons the charter was ready to expand.
Previously, both the middle and high schools shared one rented building just a small distance from the CLF office and the CMIT North Elementary School in Laurel. The shared building did not have a gym or art studios.
“Our parents were absolutely adamant about more space, and no one argued with them,” Sutherland said. “Being able to brick and mortar every bit of your building allows you to really create the space that you envisioned.”
The team just received the temporary certificate of occupancy on Sept. 1 and crews were still working on painting lines in the parking lot and putting the finishing touches, such as an awning, on the building.
The mad dash to the first day of school was one felt at PGCPS as well, as it cancelled a Sept. 1 tour and meet-and-greet at the new Fairmont Heights High School so work could be completed in time.
Although PGCPS completed numerous capital improvement projects over the summer, including the Fairmont Heights building, the school system did not comment on the accomplishments. The high school did hold a tour on Wednesday for the first day of school.
Sutherland said summer storms played a large role in the CMIT project lasting into September, but completing a three-story school building in six months was nothing short of a miracle and he is immensely proud of the new school.
When students walked into the building on Wednesday they were greeted with bright blue and light purple hallways, brand new science labs and a large cafeteria - both with floor to ceiling windows - and state-of-the-art classrooms equipped to connect to the latest technology.
“It gives that academy, university, collegiate-type feel. That’s what we’re hoping to instill in our students, whether they’re in a cafeteria, in a science lab, they’re visioning their future. It’s not just about that day in the classroom,” he said.
There is still work to do, Sutherland said. The third floor of the new high school will not be occupied this school year and an outdoor field will be completed at a later date, but the school is now ready to grow with the student population and adapt to their needs.
This is especially true as the charter transitions from a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) to a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art/Athletics and Math curriculum (STEAM). The new school boasts a college-size gym and even art studios.
This school year, 350 students will call the new CMIT high school building home, that number will grow to 500 in the coming years.