Panel: Second Bowie high school still a ways off

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Bowie High School – Prince George’s County Maryland. 

By John McNamara

Despite acknowledgment that overcrowding at Bowie High School is a problem, the issue probably won’t go away any time soon.

That was the consensus of City Council member Diane Polangin, County Council member Todd Turner and school board member Verjeana M. Jacobs at last week’s City of Bowie Education Committee forum at city hall.

The local officials fielded questions and discussed issues like budgets, curriculum, specialty programs and parental engagement.

But a good portion of the evening was devoted to Bowie High. The school, which opened 50 years ago this fall, has more than 2,700 students. Crowding became so serious the ninth grade was moved to the old Belair Junior High building on 2005, where it has remained.

In addition to the overcrowding, the high school building itself is showing its age.

“We do need major renovations,” Polangin said.

Officials would prefer to build a second high school for the city, in the south end of Bowie. Mayor G. Frederick Robinson and others have lobbied the state, but nothing has come of those efforts.

“I’d like to say we’re getting a new high school in Bowie, but I have to be realistic as well,” Turner said. “It may be a little bit easier to get some of the renovations we’re needing at the school.”

The County Council approved $17 million for repairs to the annex for 2018, but would need a massive amount help from the state for the construction of a new high school.

In 2015, Prince George’s County asked the state for $68 million for school construction and renovation, with the state allocating about $38 million for that purpose, Turner said. This year’s request is for $71 million and will be evaluated during the legislative session that begins in January.

Construction of a high school would cost between $80 million and $130 million, according to estimates.

“That’s the dilemma we have,” Turner said. “We have more need than resources.”

The county has a half-dozen high schools older than Bowie, including Central, Crossland, DuVal, Fairmont Heights, Gwynn Park, High Point, Laurel and Suitland.

State officials have suggested that re-drawing school boundaries — typically a sensitive issue — might be a less expensive way to alleviate crowding. Enrollment numbers at neighboring DuVal are below capacity, which has led some state officials to suggest that adjusting the school district boundaries might solve the problem.

“The state of Maryland requires you justify why you need a school built. If there are empty seats at DuVal, they ask you, ‘Why are you not filling up those seats?'” Jacobs said. “Part of the problem is that we do have to balance the enrollment numbers.”

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Prince George’s County Council member Todd Turner.

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