Five years after the opening of Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro, parents and officials lament that a planning flaw has prevented the school’s gymnasium from fulfilling the promise of hosting large-scale events such as graduations.
And because of a lack of space and funding, a solution to the parking problem doesn’t seem forthcoming.
Officials and parents, who want the school’s 5,000-seat gym to be used for larger events so the county can save money otherwise spent on renting venues, said the gym’s large capacity is negated by its 525-space parking lot, an issue, they say, that was ignored when the school, which cost $91.8 million to build, including a $6.9 million gym, was constructed.
Building additional lots is made difficult because of a lack of available funding in the school system’s $1.6 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2013 and available land.
Principal Carletta Marrow said that the school recently staged a series of events to commemorate the 2006 opening and that the school was visited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and was recommended for “accreditation without stipulation.”
Marrow said that although parking is tight when the gym is used for large athletic events and some middle school graduations, the school has managed to accommodate attendees.
“Most individuals do find a way to park,” Marrow said. “We partner with [Barack Obama Elementary School] next door, as well as the [Prince George’s County Animal Services Facility at the corner of Brooke Lane and Brown Station Road], and some just park along Brooke Lane.”
In 2005, when the school was being built, then-Superintendent Andre Hornsby tried to pitch the $6.9 million gym as a way for the county to save money on the rental of Comcast Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, and Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro for graduations. Last year, the school system rented Comcast Center for nine graduations, and 12 took place at Show Place Arena, costing about $400,000.
Prince George’s School Board member Donna Hathaway Beck (District 9), whose district includes Wise, said there probably won’t be any move to increase parking until the situation affects the ability of residents of the neighboring Foxchase development to park in their own neighborhood.
“For a taxpayer, was it reasonable to tack an extra $5 million on for the gym?” Beck asked. “Well, it’s here, so there’s not much we can do about it.”
The parking issue was never addressed, Beck said, making a large event such as a graduation, where thousands of people are in attendance, unfeasible. The school had one graduation last year, for about 150 students graduating from the county’s evening high school programs.
Beck noted that the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission owns a forested area of land adjacent to the west of the school but that the land is designated as a forest mitigation site.
Briant Coleman, a county schools spokesman, said it isn’t feasible at this time to consider trying to expand parking. The school system would have to procure land, which it cannot afford to do, Coleman said.
Carol Strauss, 52, of Upper Marlboro, who has a 15-year-old sophomore at the school, said although, overall, she’s happy with the school, its ability to have large events is hampered by the parking situation.
“It’s nowhere near big enough, and that’s a huge gym,” Strauss said. “Parents met with the [Middle States Council for the Social Studies] recently, and people talked about [finding ways to expand parking at the school].”
Peachie Pleasants of Suitland, mother of 18-year-old Wise senior, said she has been impressed with the way the school handles its almost 3,000 students, comparing its population to “a small city.” But Pleasants acknowledged that parking is an issue.
“It can definitely be a little tight, so you just have to make sure you’re here on time,” Pleasants said.