Prince George’s County Public Schools. (File Photo)

UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Council Education and Workforce Development Committee received a briefing from Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) staff on their fiscal years 2021-2026 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and their new Alternative Construction Financing program (ACF).

During the meeting, CEO Monica Goldson and other members of the PGCPS executive team went into detail about what they were able to accomplish in fiscal year (FY) 2019 with school construction, what they plan to do with the funding they have been given in FY 2020 and what they would like the council to approve for FY 2021. They also went over their new ACF.

According to PGCPS Director of Capital Programs Shawn Matlock, during FY 2019, the school system was able to finish a total of 531 projects, with most of them being system upgrades such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and window replacements. The projects totaled $98 million.

“The normal cycle is we prepare the Educational Facilities Master Plan (EFMP) which then is used to draft our capital budgets, which then goes into our Capital Improvement Plan and so forth,” Matlock said of how they went about funding the CIP for FY 2020. “For FY 2020, what we received was, for us, a very large amount. We got approved for $211 million for funding.”

That funding will go toward the construction of three new schools that will break ground this fall: a new William Wirt Middle School, a Glenridge Area Middle School, and a new Cherokee Lane Elementary School as well as a new Stephen Decatur Middle School.

Additionally, five new schools are still in the design phase, which includes a new International High School at Langley Park, Suitland High School, High Point High School, Camp Schmidt modernization and a Northern Adelphi Area High School.

Meanwhile, for the upcoming fiscal year 2021, the PGCPS Board of Education has requested a total of $240 million, which includes $181 million from the county and $59 million from the state.

“We didn’t request a ton of money for the FY 2020. The reason we didn’t do that is, in cooperation with the office of management and budget, we tried to keep the ask close to what we actually needed so that you can approve more real dollars so we can spend those dollars. We’re trying to get closer to the number we actually spend,” Matlock said, adding that they are trying to do the same for FY 2021.

The $240 million includes additional funding for projects approved in the previous year and other countywide projects.

Also, six middle schools, Drew-Freeman Middle School, Hyattsville Middle School, Kenmoor Middle School, Walker Mill Middle School and new buildings in the Adelphi and southern areas of the county, will be included in the ACF program which will utilize a public-private partnership to build schools.

Two other schools have the potential to be added after further cost analysis. The six schools were chosen based on a set of criteria: geographical diversity, overcrowding and the schools are in cycle one of the EFMP.

With the support of the county executive and county council and $25 million to $30 million invested annually in school construction for the next 30 years, Goldson said the initiative is “our county’s largest infrastructure investment in generations.”

“Our P3 program — one of many steps in a multi-year, countywide project — takes an innovative approach to school construction by financing a collaborative partnership that ensures our educational facilities meet the needs of current and future students,” Goldson said following the committee meeting. “In the coming months, we will meet with families and communities to help inform our decisions about the design and location of the schools.”

According to Matlock, the ACF program was initially introduced to the county council in 2018, and the council then created a workgroup to implement it. They hired a consultant who determined it was feasible and the board of education approved six to eight schools to be included in the ACF in September.

With the ACF program in place, more than 30 schools will undergo renovations or modernization to improve learning conditions and their communities throughout the next 30 years, Goldson said. The new program will help PGCPS build schools quicker, save millions of dollars and limit the financial risks for taxpayers, such as cost overruns and opening delays.

As for the six schools already lined up in the ACF, PGCPS will be requesting proposals soon and are currently in the process of selecting the development team, Matlock said. The construction will begin in 2021, and they are set to be up and running in 2023.

Following the briefing, the councilmembers raised a series of questions about the CIP. One of those concerns had to do with the overcrowding of middle schools in the county.

Matlock clarified that only middle schools were chosen for the ACF because they fit the selected criteria. The hope is to mitigate the severe overcrowding of middle schools in the county and address high schools next, to which Councilmember Deni Taveras (District 2) said she was “very happy about that” considering the severity of overcrowding she has seen in her district.

Monique Anderson-Walker (District 8) also pointed out the need to address overcrowding in the southern half of the county as well and the need for a southern area K-8 school. According to Goldson, a K-8 school is in the works to be built in Fort Washington, which will combine Isaac J. Gourdine Middle School and Potomac Landing Elementary School.

“We do also see that desires and needs, but more so needs, in the southern part and as we look at expansion opportunities and development opportunities that will stem from regional growth, and Amazon is just one of them, we definitely want to make sure our schools are ready,” Anderson-Walker said.

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