Closed school in Pr. George’s turned over to MGM Resorts for casino project

The Prince George’s County Board of Education has approved a county government request to transfer the deed of a vacant school near National Harbor to the county so MGM Resorts can use the property as it develops its casino project.

Thursday night’s vote, 11 to 0 with one abstention, was held after board members questioned the timing of the request, which came to the board this week — nearly eight weeks after county officials sent schools chief Kevin M. Maxwell a letter requesting that the old Thomas Addison Elementary School be deemed a surplus facility.

Board member Edward Burroughs III (District 8), who represents the area, had pushed for the item to be removed from the consent agenda. He said he wasn’t opposed to the request but worried that there had been limited community input.

“This is the first time that we’re seeing this,” Burroughs said, referring to the Dec. 2 county letter about the building that was sent to Maxwell. “I have no problem with this being a training facility for MGM, but I represent this community, and I think we should have some regard for the people there.”

Recently appointed board member Sonya Williams (District 9) did not cast a vote, and Zabrina Epps (District 1) was absent.

The building, which has been vacant for five years, will be renovated and the 7.3-acre property used for recruiting and training employees. It also will serve as a staging area for the construction of the resort and casino, according to county officials.

Board member Peggy Higgins (District 2) questioned what benefit the school system and its students will gain from the transfer of the property.

“The way I look on it, we’re giving a surplus building to a casino,” Higgins said. “I have a problem without an understanding of what MGM will provide in return.”

Thomas M. Himler, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for budget, finance and administration, said it was unclear how the agreement with MGM Resorts will be structured and that details will be fleshed out as the deal moves forward.

“It will probably be leased to them. All of that has to be negotiated,” he added.

Board member Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5) asked why the school system could not remain the owner of the school and lease it to MGM. George Margolies, the school system’s chief of staff, said the school system is legally required to turn over property to the county when it determines that it no longer has a use for it.

Maxwell said it was not the school system’s role to negotiate the terms of an agreement between the county and MGM, noting that MGM has said it wants to be a good community partner.

MGM is still in negotiations with the County Council, Lorenzo Creighton, the president of MGM National Harbor, said in a statement.

“Our vision is that the MGM will invest approximately $4 million to renovate the property, which will then be used as a recruitment and training center,” Creighton said. “Once MGM National Harbor opens, MGM will return the renovated property to Prince George’s County as a fully functional building.”

On Friday, Creighton and other company officials presented Friendly High School in Fort Washington with 50 iPads.

Since the closing of Thomas Addison Elementary, about a half-mile from National Harbor, a private school and churches have expressed interest in the building, but no deals were approved, Burroughs said.

“It’s kind of disappointing to hear that it’s going to the casino,” he said. “I had a pastor a couple of weeks ago ask me about it.”

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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