BOWIE — Renovations of Tulip Grove Elementary are nearly two years behind schedule and parents, as well as county leaders, are looking for answers from the school system.
Parents of Tulip Grove students expected to have their children move back into a newly renovated building this year, but after multiple delays the elementary school has yet to be substantially worked on.
Lori Morrow, a former Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president and mother of two former Tulip Grove students, said the initial meetings and conversations about the renovations at the elementary school began in 2011. She was the PTA president from 2010 until 2012 and has taken a passionate interest in the progress of the renovations.
“From what I recall, we were fairly high on their priority list for capital improvements, and I remember at the time thinking the big obstacle is funding because a lot of the funding comes from the state,” Morrow said.
But state funding for the project was approved nearly two years ago and Morrow said she and her neighbors have seen barely any work done at the elementary school.
Todd Turner, the county councilman for the area, said he, as well as parents and staff of the school, are “very disappointed” in where the renovations currently are.
“As you recall, as part of this approval of the board of education’s budget, particularly the capital improvements program (CIP), we actually added additionally funding to complete the renovation of Tulip Grove in the next fiscal year,” he said.
That money, nearly $5 million, was added to the budget for the 2017 capital projects after a similar amount was realigned to fund other capital projects and shortfalls in 2016, according to a May 4 Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) document.
That same document reiterates that Tulip Grove has not been struck from the CIP. However, Turner said he was told the school system hoped to begin construction over the summer.
“I just drove by the school, probably in the last week, and obviously there’s been no movement,” he said.
In fact, the awarding of the Tulip Grove construction contract was struck from the Aug. 25 Prince George’s County Board of Education agenda, which Morrow thinks is a sign of even further delays, though she says she has yet to receive any answers from the school system – a trend she has noted throughout the process.
The Sentinel has reached out to PGCPS on several occasions over the last two weeks for information on the Tulip Grove renovation, however PGCPS did not respond before press time.
The $23 million renovation of Tulip Grove is expect to increase the size of the school by more than 20,000 square feet and add new science classrooms, computer labs and a new gym and cafeteria, according to the Tulip Grove website. But those new renovations seem a distant reality for those in the community.
When the school system and parents agreed to use the old Meadowbrook school building as swing space, Morrow said she had felt two major hurdles has been crossed: PGCPS had gotten the funding and the students had found a temporary home.
“Everybody had assumed that we had gotten past the biggest obstacle. We didn’t expect that every phase of permitting and bid processes and there would be delays at, just at every stage,” she said. “And I think communication did not go well. After we moved to Meadowbrook, we really didn’t get a lot of updates.”
Morrow said the group of parents jokingly purchased T-shirts for the occasion. They read “Tulip Grove at Meadowbrook 2014-2016” because they had been assured it was a two-year move.
It wasn’t until spring of 2015 that the PTA was told the project was behind schedule and had been behind schedule since before the students were moved to Meadowbrook.
In February 2015, Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer of PGCPS, had provided Morrow and other parents at Tulip Grove with a timeline putting permitting in April of 2015 and competition of construction in winter 2016.
However, a Nov. 2, 2015 letter to parents outlined the progress with renovation, citing completed phases such as design and a successful submission to the county department of permitting, a step that was originally outlined for March 2014, according to presentation slides in 2013.
The November 2015 letter also outlined a new timeline putting the contractor solicitation process in January of 2016 and construction that spring. However, the letter also stated the dates are merely estimates.
“As with any major project, the dates are used as a bench mark, but are not constant as many of the critical milestones are not controlled by PGCPS,” the letter reads.
Morrow said Maxwell also expressed those same sentiments when questioned by parents about the delays in the Tulip Grove renovations. Morrow said Maxwell claimed the project’s original timeline was an “overpromise” and unrealistic.
Now, as students begin their second month of instruction in 2016 and their third year at Meadowbrook, the contract for the school construction has yet to be signed.
“For some reason this contract has had numerous issues,” Turner said. “Obviously I had seen reports with respect to that and I’m hoping to get an update as well.”
Even this spring, the bidding process was moved back. Originally, according to an Office of Purchasing and Supply Service document, the bidding opened on June 15 and closed on July 11 at 2 p.m., but an amendment was added to the bid to extend the deadline to July 14.
Turner said he and his office have been in constant contact over the past year and a half and said there has been some change in the CIP office at PGCPS, causing some delays, as well a change in the project manager overseeing the Tulip Grove renovation.
“Obviously it is not an ideal situation. We dealt with the previous situation and we thought we were moving forward. Now, we’re having some more difficulties with it, so I have to say this is kind of unusual in the time I’ve been at the county,” Turner said. “There’s always delays with projects that are unexpected, but let’s be honest, the biggest issue is getting the students back into the school.”
The project is expected to take 16 months to complete once the construction contract is signed, and with the project nearly two years behind schedule, students may not enter a renovated Tulip Grove until the 2018/2019 school year – four full years after moving to Meadowbrook.
For Morrow, that move is out of the question, as she has transferred her daughter to Heather Hills Elementary. Although her daughter is excited about what Heather Hills has to offer, she said if Tulip Grove had opened this year they wouldn’t have transferred.
“If we had a brand new, renovated, modern building to move into this year, we probably wouldn’t have transferred her. She probably would be excited about going back to the new building with the rest of her classmates,” Morrow said.
Her daughter was the last group of kindergartners in the original Tulip Grove building and the renovations may be completed for their fifth grade year, but Morrow said many of those original students have also moved on.
“I don’t know exact numbers, but her grade of second graders last year, there are a number of people who either moved out of the county or transferred to other schools. So much so that they went from three second grades to only two third grades,” she said. “Those are the kids who expected to go back this year to a new building. That frustration has impacted people.”