The Prince George's County government has suddenly elevated two major school construction projects to the top of its state funding wish list: a replacement for the aging Oxon Hill High School and a new high school in southern Bowie.
The new Oxon Hill campus on Leyte Drive, first in line, would cost $87.7 million, and the Bowie school on Mitchellville Road, $82.2 million. They are the government's answers to demands for new schools in the southern and northern sectors of the county.
Although the choices are likely to please the Bowie and Oxon Hill communities, it is unclear whether other areas will be satisfied.
The selection of school construction sites is a highly charged political decision in a county with some gleaming, modern campuses sprinkled amid many that are run-down and overcrowded.
Yesterday, the County Council unanimously approved a letter promoting the two high school projects, among others. It will be signed jointly by County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and Council Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) and sent to state officials for consideration as they develop the Maryland school construction budget.
"There is no perfect location" for a new northern county high school, said Council Vice Chairman Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel). "Every site has its faults."
Dernoga was out of the chamber when the vote occurred but voiced no opposition to the decision. The letter included language supporting a $23 million auditorium for Laurel High School in Dernoga's district.
The council also unanimously approved two bills that provide about $80 million in funding for various school projects. The largest share -- $66.6 million -- would go toward fixing roofs, boilers and chillers countywide, part of a $126 million, three-year initiative to wipe out a backlog of maintenance work. School officials hail it as a major investment.
An additional $8.4 million approved yesterday would help finish a $92 million high school, which would include a controversial 5,000-seat gymnasium, scheduled to open in Upper Marlboro next August. Former schools chief Andre J. Hornsby had championed the gym over the objections of council members who called it an unaffordable extravagance. Ultimately, he won that battle, but only after he resigned from the school system during the spring during an unrelated ethics controversy.
With the Upper Marlboro construction issue settled, officials are now turning to other sites. Plans call for expanding DuVal High School in Lanham ($16.4 million), Parkdale High School in Riverdale ($19 million) and Potomac High School in Oxon Hill ($24 million).
The biggest winners in the construction derby are Oxon Hill and Bowie.
Oxon Hill High, built in 1959, has been deteriorating for years but has never received the go-ahead for replacement. "It's been talked about for over 20 years," said council member Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills). His district includes the campus, which is just outside the Capital Beltway near Indian Head Highway. He called yesterday's action "very significant." The proposal calls for a 2,300-student school to be built before the 2008-09 academic year.
The maneuvering behind the Bowie selection was apparently intense. Other potential sites in the northern part of the county, around Adelphi and elsewhere, were discarded because of environmental concerns, officials said.
Bowie Mayor G. Frederick Robinson said he has pushed the site in the city's Mitchellville area for years because it is already owned by the school system and would serve the rapidly growing north-south corridor along Route 301. With plans for 1,800 students by the 2010-11 school year, the new high school, next to Allen Pond Park, would be the second in a city with about 56,000 residents. Bowie High, serving 2,851 students on Annapolis Road, is one of the Washington area's largest schools and is so crowded that this year 817 ninth-graders were moved to classrooms in an off-campus annex.
With the new campus, Robinson said, "our need for high school seats will probably be met for a generation."