Residents upset Bladensburg High still in Bowie
Aug. 14, 2003
Ayesha Morris
Staff Writer

Bowie residents said they were first promised Bladensburg High School would be out of their community this year.

Now that school officials are saying the high school will move out of its temporary space in Bowie's Belair Annex in early 2005, some worry that the increasing number of temporary classrooms will encroach on their backyards.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, workers drilled trenches for electrical wires and chiseled gray cinder blocks for a permanent outdoors bathroom in the Belair Annex parking lot.

"My backyard looks like I'm at a military camp," said Mike Ricketts, watching the construction from a position near his goldfish pond, which abuts the school.

Ricketts, who's lived in the area for 17 years, said he'd grown to enjoy watching students play football and softball games, but now his patience is wearing thin. "Now that they're bringing the buildings to our backyard, it's kind of disappointing."

The issue at hand is a contentious one. When former Prince George's County Public Schools CEO Iris Metts decided to move Bladensburg High during its renovation into the vacant Bowie building in 2001, several residents protested at City Hall. They were concerned the county school system was doing little to relieve student overcrowding locally in Bowie's schools. However, school administrators determined that Bladensburg, which had suffered from rat infestation caused by a landfill, had a greater need.

Belair, a former middle school, had more recently been used for overflow at Bowie High School, Kenilworth Elementary and Perrywood Elementary in Bowie and Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro.

But Charlene Alter, a neighbor who rallied in opposition at the time, had grown accustomed to the new students, until she returned from vacation two weeks ago to find the foundation for a new permanent outdoor bathroom being constructed 15 feet away from her backyard.

"It's been a pleasant experience to a potentially bad situation except for up to this point," Alter said. "Any which way you set it down it's a huge eyesore. It's like having a Port-a-John in the backyard."

Alter said she also feels deceived about the number of temporaries, which have grown from the no more than 20 promised two years to 34 by the time school opens in the fall and another six projected for the following year.

The expected fall enrollment at Bladensburg High School is 1,614 students, more than twice the capacity of the Belair Annex, which was originally built for 800 students.

"I'd rather be in Bladensburg because this is too far and the school is too small," said 17-year-old Monica Walker, who will be a senior this fall.

Principal David Stofa noted the challenge of retrofitting a high school into a middle school, adding that staff and students were more than ready to move on. "It's like moving a five-bedroom house into a one-bedroom condominium," Stofa said. "Having that many classrooms outside is difficult."

Stofa said he could understand the concerns of residents. "[They] had perfectly legitimate concerns about having their overcrowded-ness taken care of."

"As badly as they want us to go, we want to move to a new school, too," Stofa added.

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