A nearly $1 million project to expand Robert Goddard French Immersion School’s parking lot has angered parents, who say Prince George’s County is wasting limited dollars on extra parking spaces instead of for much-needed school renovations.
The Lanham school has 600 kindergarten through eighth-grade students and 60 staff members. It shares a building with Robert Goddard Montessori School, which has about 550 pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students.
“We share a building. We’re busting out of the seams,” said June Evans, the school’s PTA president. “They’d rather use that money to fix the parking lot instead of saying, ‘This is an excellent program. Let’s put money towards expanding the program.’ Instead, money is being put towards expanding the parking lot.”
There are 200 students on the school’s waiting list, said Max Pugh, a county public schools spokesman.
“The program is constrained by [the school’s] space and approved budget and staffing levels,” he said.
The school’s PTA and principal have been pushing to expand the program and move the school to a building of its own for at least 10 years, Evans said.
County officials delayed moving Robert Goddard French Immersion to the vacant former Greenbelt Middle School building this school year, promising it would occur next school year. The move was postponed because the old school requires infrastructure work, Pugh said. There is no estimate of the cost.
The parking lot project was underway before the county approved the move and will still benefit Robert Goddard Montessori, which will remain in the building, he said.
The parking lot is set to be finished by the end of the fall semester. It will add 111 parking spaces, reducing traffic in the lot, and make dropping off and picking up children safer, Pugh said.
“We have to make sure arriving to the school is safe ... and the parking lot is part of that,” he said.
Principal Nasser Abi said parents haven’t complained to him about parking; parents don’t park at the school often. Instead, they drive through to drop off or pick up children, and most students take the bus, he said.
Besides a bigger building overall, parents said the school needs other upgrades.
The children’s bathroom and parts of the cafeteria need renovations, said Adeline Wilcox of Beltsville, whose daughter is in the sixth grade at Robert Goddard French Immersion.
“I’m almost speechless to hear the cost. ... The money could have been spent on so many other things rather than parking,” Wilcox said.
Pugh said he couldn’t compare the cost of the parking lot to other hypothetical renovations at the school.
The project is one of seven parking lot renovations planned by the county in 2012, Pugh said.
Abi said parking spaces will help after-school activities, but rarely will be needed.
“Usually, we don’t have events. And most schools don’t have events at the same time, so we won’t have those kinds of problems,” he added.
He said it’s unlikely that events at Robert Goddard French Immersion and Robert Goddard Montessori will coincide.
The parking-lot project came “out of the blue,” Evans said. “No one had ever complained about parking. We were totally fine. The [county] administration says otherwise, but from an insider, we were fine.”