Many in the neighborhood are by now quite aware that the charter school at 1st and P NW, Community Academy Public Charter School (CAPCS), has leased its auditorium to Metropolitan Baptist Church (MBC) as the church waits on completion of a new complex in Largo, Maryland. For the time being, the church intends to hold services every Sunday at 7:00am and 9:45am, along with Bible study at 7:00pm on Tuesdays. What follows is a general summary of events to date, but more detailed summaries of individual meetings and issues will be posted soon.
Dozens of neighbors attended a meeting with CAPCS and MBC leadership at the school on February 19 to discuss the church’s use of the facility, given the major concerns around parking, land use, and community notification. We learned that MBC intends to lease the auditorium for at least 2 years, and that the entire field adjacent to the school was converted to a ‘temporary’ parking lot to minimize the impact on street traffic and parking. Residents raised concerns about the legality of the lease, the legality of the parking lot, and the general impacts of having such a large congregation coming into the neighborhood twice a week.
Many neighbors had contacted the Deputy Mayor for Education’s office in December and January to inquire about the nature of CAPCS’s agreement with the city, since the facility (originally Armstrong School) was originally public property, and was sold to CAPCS at a discount to be used exclusively as a charter school. The Deputy Mayor’s office notified those who had sent letters that, following an investigation, the Office of Property Management (OPM) determined that the “non-educational use” of the facility was in violation of CAPCS’s contract with the city. Following the Feb 19 meeting, we received a copy of the letter, which stated that the city maintains a “reserved reversionary interest” in the property in the event that any portion of it is not used for educational purposes, and that CAPCS had 30 days to “cure the non-authorized use of the property.”
On Mar 9, a smaller group of residents (including Commissioners Bonds and Pinkney and BACA President Berry) met with CAPCS’ Chief Operating Officer, Wendell Butler– -these individuals had volunteered to be included in a group that could meet more regularly to discuss community concerns with CAPCS, and, in this case, MBC. At this meeting, MBC was represented by a Trustee who had not attended the Feb 19 meeting.
Mr. Butler informed this group that he and a CAPCS lawyer had met with OPM on Friday, Mar 6, as a follow up to the claim that part of the school property was being used for non-educational use. He reiterated CAPCS’ position that since they are operating a school on the premises, there is no violation, and that CAPCS will do as it sees fit on its private property. OPM’s response, according to Mr. Butler, was that litigation was still a possibility, but that the city would prefer that CAPCS “work it out” with the community. Mr. Butler went on to point out that CAPCS is willing to negotiate with “community leaders”, i.e. Ms. Bonds, Ms. Pinkney, and Mr. Berry, but that it would be untenable to try and hold meetings with every vested interest in the neighborhood.
Minutes from this discussion will be made available soon. Following Mr. Butler’s update on the legal issue, neighbors expressed their concern that MBC had yet to act on any alternatives suggested at the Feb meeting (e.g. utilizing Dunbar H.S.’s underground parking as their primary lot on Sundays). The group agreed to set a follow up date of March 25, at which time MBC would inform the community of its concrete plans to alleviate parking problems in and around the neighborhood. MBC’s representative was unwilling to commit to any specific individual being able to attend a meeting on March 25, but indicated that she would take it back to the leadership.