The Prince George's County School Board, attempting to find alternatives to maintaining surplus property, has transferred nine schools to the county government.
The transfer, which would save the school board $1.6 million in maintenance costs, is part of an effort by the school board to reduce the number of vacant buildings it has held over the years. Since 1967 the board has released five schools to the county and plans to release at least three more early next year.
he buildings will be held for use by the county or they will be deeded, leased or sold during the next few months to municipalities and non-profit organizations.
"We are moving as fast as we can to release these buildings from our responsibility," said Craig Gerhart, staff member for County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr., whose office is handling the negotiations in the project.
The surplus schools are the result of the long process of school closings that began earlier this year. Ten schools, three of them on the current surplus list, were ordered closed by the Board of Education this fall as the school system tried to reconcile iis problems of dwindling enrollment throughout the county.
College Park Elementary, Cottage City Special Center and Foxhill Elementary Schools will be transferred for $1 by deed to College Park, Cottage City and Bowie, respectively, with the provision that the property revert back to the county if it is no longer by needed by the municipality.
The Audiovisual Center in Bladensburg, surrounded by commercial and industrial properties, is to be offered for public sale, and the county is negotiating with the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Prince George's County for the lease of Whitehall Elementary for an educational and training center.
The county has not decided on uses for the Bowie Special Center or the Seabrook Center, although suggestions have been made. The county plans to hold, at least temporarily, the Capitol Heights Special Education Resources Center and plans to renovate the Bladensburg Educational Media Center for use as the Bladensburg Branch Library.
Since the announcement last week that the county was going to make the properties available, citizens groups and city councils have been brainstorming to figure out uses for the sites.
Suggestions range from high school vocational students rehabilitating one of the older buildings to "just razing it."
In College Park, where citizens are still fighting the closing of the school in court, a citizens advisory group is talking to the University of Maryland about creating a teaching center for remedial education. Pat Kunniff, chairman of the advisory committee to the city council, said the city would lease the school to the university if an agreement could be reached. "But we have to watch the community impact as far as parking and traffic," Kunniff said. "And the university won't know if they have the funds for the renovations until mid-January. We strongly want to maintain the school grounds as a recreation area."
The group also is discussing alternatives to the university's proposal, including partial and complete renovation of the facility or demolition of the building. Demolition would be strongly opposed, according to several people active in community.
The county wants to pass the fiscal responsibility for renovation and up-keep of the buildings on to the deed holder, according to Gerhart. Charles Moore, city manager of Bowie, said he expects the city would have to pay $150,000 to renovate Foxhill Elementary. The town will use the school for its new city hall and will lease some of it to community groups such as the YMCA, the Bowie Hotline and a senior citizens group.
"We'll be one of the few city halls with such huge hallways and with such low sinks," Moore said. The city also wants the county to raze the Bowie Special Center and deed the land to Bowie for a recreational center.
The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission also would like the site for a recreation center. However, the commission would like to renovate the 60 year old building. This plan would involve county money since staff and renovation costs would have to come from the commission budget.
One of the more innovative ideas to come out of the surplus "send off" is for the Seabrook Center. The community has sent out strong signals of support for using Seabrook as a recreational community center with senior citizen activities, day and evening classes, meeting rooms and office space. However, an alternate proposal would create a county educational program that would allow vocational students to renovate the building for residential use, as part of their technical training, and sell the residence to the public.
There are still legal requirements that must be met before the county actually rids itself of the property, which is costing the county $1,604.30 in maintenance costs each week it keeps the land.
"All nine buildings could be around for quite a while," cautioned Gerhart.