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Hyattsville council adds teen center to proposed budget

HyattsvilleMunicipalBuildingHYATTSVILLE — The bottom line on Hyattsville’s proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget just grew a little.

The Hyattsville City Council added $550,000 to the proposed the Fiscal Year 2019 budget during their April 18 meeting, where the council informally agreed to add plans for a new teen and young adult center to their to-do list in the next years.

“The last we discussed this, after the meeting, a group of us met. It was Councilmember (Kevin) Ward, Councilmember (Robert) Croslin, Councilmember (Erica) Spell, Councilmember (Edouard) Haba and I, met to discuss the motion to see if there was a way that we could reconcile the programmatic design,” Mayor Candace Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth brought a revision of two previous budget requests regarding the teen center and the teen club currently put on by the city’s police department. The two requests were first brought to the council in December, as the body began to consider options for the 2019 budget.

At the time, several council members requested that Hollingsworth and Spell, who had submitted their requests separately, come together to combine the two proposals into one idea. However, Spell said she was hesitant to forfeit her proposal, saying she did not want the city to take control of the police-run program, nor did she want the Teen Club to be removed from Magruder Park.

The proposal before the council on April 18 attempted to address some of those concerns by specifically outlining programming at both the proposed new teen center and Magruder Park.

“The Teen Club, which began as a summer outlet for youth 12-plus, and operated by members of the Hyattsville City Police Department and volunteers will continue with programming coordinated by a full-time program coordinator housed in the department of community services. Magruder Park will remain a programming location for Friday evenings during the academic year and on select days (as determined by staffing) during the summer months,” council documents read.

Hollingsworth said the police department would still “have a very hands-on relationship with the program,” but said that the city would take over the administrative tasks of the program. While council documents state the program would likely be at Magruder Park only on Fridays during the school year, Hollingsworth said the city is looking into a grant that would allow programming to be both at the future teen center and Magruder Park every day.

“There have since been some additional modifications, given the opportunity that was presented with the 21st Century Community Learning Center application, which is a maximum $400,000 grant opportunity per year, for three years,” she said. “(The programs) would likely be more robust and likely be every day at both locations.”

This would allow the police-run teen club to run as it does currently, with additional supports, said City Administrator Tracey Nicholson.

However, while the grant would help pay for programming, it cannot be used for capital improvements of any kind, Community Services Director Jake Rollow said. A large component of the proposed teen center is the renovation of a storefront in the University Town Center (UTC), which would be rented for a reduced cost of $9 per square foot (or roughly $25,000 per year) for five years.

The proposal for the teen center includes a $550,000 budget request that would set aside $350,000 for capital improvements to the site. That could include anything from cleaning up the space and making it functional for a lounge-type environment, to adding a performance stage.

The additional $200,000 would be used for operational costs such as salaries, transportation costs or a construction project manager.

Councilman Thomas Wright asked about additional efforts to keep youth safe, as the teen club would be located near a bar, where there has been a history of disturbances. Nicholson said the city is looking into extra safety measures for the center, including surveillance cameras and additional policing. She did, however, note that it is private property.

Beyond budget numbers, Councilwoman Shani Warner said she is nervous about the additional workload a teen center would place on city staff, noting that she knows city staff are “miracle workers,” but that they should not have to “make miracles happen” every day.

“The one thing that I am deeply curious about, and I sort of need to have my fear be allayed, is staff capacity for taking on what seems to be a huge initiative,” Warner said.

Rollow noted that, even if the grant money does not come through, the operating costs proposed for the new center would cover staffing for both sites but said there would have to be some shifting of roles within his department. The city would likely have to hire some part-time employees as well to “swing back and forth between the two locations.”

“There is no doubt that this is a very special project – in the sense that it would be big,” he said “At that level, it would take some work. I do think that we have competent people on staff. I do think we would need to add people. We’d have to make it work.”

There were also concerns about what the city would do when the three-year grant runs out. Warner pointed out that starting out the program at five days a week, at two locations, sets a heavy precedent that likely would not be replicated once the grant money is gone.

Haba shared similar concerns about what happens when the five year term of reduced rent of the UTC location ends.

“At this rate you go for five years, you put all this money in and at the end of five years what do we do? Where do we go from there,” he asked.

City staff is working on sustainability solutions, though, Rollow said, and they are looking into how the city could fundraise for the program to ensure it lasts.

The city council took an informal vote that added the teen center and program to the proposed budget. Only Spell and Haba opposed.

If the program passes in the final approved budget, Lesley Riddle, the city’s director of public works, said renovations of the UTC site could take six to eight months, given the time is taken for permitting.  

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