By LINDSAY MYERS — This is a developing story.
Update at 10:50 p.m. on August 5:
Three members of the Hyattsville Environment Committee (HEC) rose during the public comment portion of this evening’s City Council meeting to address the committee’s recent letter opposing the relocation of Hyattsville Middle School to Magruder Park. Jim Groves, the acting chair, spoke on behalf of the group with Theresa Goedeke, and Richard Canino standing beside him. Groves emphasized the importance of the issue at hand and asked whether Council had received and read the letter. He then made the following remarks about HEC’s commitment to the environmental welfare of the city:
“There’s going to be more letters like this,” said Jim Groves. “Not necessarily about the [middle] school, but also other environmental issues impacting the city of Hyattsville and this county. I think this is something we can do as a city … Let the county know that we are watching what’s happening and we are concerned about it.”
On Friday August 2, Dan Broder, the former chair of HEC and current chair of the Educational Facilities Task Force (EFTF) that identified Magruder Park and the current location of HMS as possible rebuild locations, said he wanted to push back on Goedeke’s assertion in the Hyattsville Life & Times original article (below) that HEC had not been consulted on the identification of potential sites for HMS.
“We have striven through nine public meetings in a span of three months, two separate public comments hosted by the city council, and myself personally answering more than 20 emails on the HOPE list serve to operate in a fair, transparent, and honest way. That dedication to operating in this way continues. We will answer any question with the truth,” said Broder.
EFTF was formed in March 2019 to identify potential sites for HMS. Between March and the end of June, EFTF held nine public meetings on the topic, the minutes of which are available through the city. The committee presented twice in front of city council, once on May 6 when they identified four potential sites for the placement of the school and once on June 3 after the county only expressed interest in sites already owned by PGCPS or MNCPPC. The June 3 presentation marks the beginning of the major public interest that has grown in response to the potential relocation of HMS.
Broder took responsibility for any miscommunication between EFTF and the public over the course of those nine meetings.
“As chairman of this committee,” said Broder. “I cannot specifically speak for the city, but I will say that my understanding was when City Council chartered this committee, they did so under the full expectation that we would operate in an unbiased, transparent, responsive manner. And we have striven to uphold those ideals throughout this entire process.
Broder also acknowledged the real environmental concerns of building on the park.
“Critiques of the environmental concerns surrounding Magruder Park are completely fair and valid,” Broder said. “The EFTF has striven to frame this as a difficult decision for the community to make because of the lack of resources in both money to build schools as well as urban green space.”
Also during this evening’s meeting, Tracey Douglas, City Administrator, updated Council on the current status of the HMS rebuild. PGCPS, she said, will hire an architect by the first week of September to perform a feasibility study of both sites.
“This is just preliminary information for us to make a decision,” Douglas stressed. “We need to make a decision on how you would like to move forward, but it is really at this time just a study of the two areas.”
Dan Broder has resigned from his position as the committee chair of the Hyattsville Environment Committee (HEC). HEC is an advisory body to City Council that makes recommendations related to the environmental welfare of the city. The committee’s purview typically includes promoting parks usage and maintenance, waste reduction and recycling, and sustainability practices. Broder sat on the committee from fall 2016 until July 2019. He became chair in April 2018.
Broder remains the chair of the city’s Educational Facilities Task Force (EFTF), which exists to “ensure that the County address[es] the local school infrastructure needs.” Most recently, EFTF has been researching potential sites for the renovation and possible relocation of Hyattsville Middle School (HMS). On June 3, Broder presented on behalf of EFTF two potential sites for the forthcoming HMS renovation: the current site on 42nd Avenue and a portion of the undeveloped parkland in Magruder Park.
The task force’s recommendation to build on Magruder Park was not received well by some community members, including the members of HEC who had been working with Broder as their chair.
Theresa Goedeke, a member of HEC since September 2018 said it is the duty of the committee to oppose the development of Magruder Park, citing major environmental, social, and health concerns related to the loss of the city’s limited greenspace.
“It’s our job to look out for the sustainability of this community. That’s what we’ve been tasked with. It’s our job when the city does certain things or makes certain choices — that we are the ones who are proactive … [Magruder Park] is such a critical space for so many reasons.”
Goedeke expressed frustration that HEC had not been consulted when the EFTF began looking for potential sites.
“This [Magruder Park issue] is probably one of the biggest issues, at least in my tenure, that we will face. This is a huge legacy that we will leave behind in this community, and what do we leave behind? Do we say, “Well you know…” or do we say, “No, this is so important. And if you had engaged us earlier, as I think they should have, we could have told you. We could have gone and done the research, we could have brought you these ideas, but you didn’t.”
after his presentation to City Council on June 3, Broder recused himself from any HEC discussions about or recommendations made regarding Magruder Park and the HMS rebuild. After HEC sent a letter to Mayor Hollingsworth to oppose the relocation of the school to Magruder Park, Broder officially resigned from the committee.
Broder emphasized his commitment to Hyattsville and and environmental welfare in his remarks on his resignation.
“I’m sad to be leaving the wonderful people I’ve worked with on the Hyattsville Environmental Committee and I want to thank them for the amazing work they’ve put in to make this City a greener place. I look forward to continuing my environmental activism as a private citizen and concerned resident of Hyattsville who is deeply concerned about climate change.”
HEC’s July 18 letter to the mayor argued for the environmental and social benefits of maintaining urban greenspace, such as the “mitigat[ion of] air, water, light and noise pollution,” the mitigation of “global climate change through CO2 absorption,” and the opportunity “for people to exercise, relax, and recreate.”
The letter also raised concerns that the school would be constructed on a known floodplain, which puts Hyattsville at greater risk of the types of extreme flooding experienced in nearby communities like Ellicott City, Maryland.
Finally, in praise of the city, the letter urged Mayor Hollingsworth and City Council to treat the relocation of the school with the same “broader, more holistic view of social issues” that it has used in the past.
“The Committee believes this is another issue requiring more thoughtful and holistic consideration of the implications, impacts, and consequences. This consideration must be undertaken now, before irreparable damage is done to our community by the development of Magruder Park and destruction of associated ecological systems.”
A representative from HEC will address Mayor Hollingsworth and City Council during the public comment portion of the City Council meeting on Monday, August 5. This story will be updated with those remarks.