Charles County delegation hosts bond bill hearing
Each year, citizens can make legislative requests to the Charles County Board of Commissioners and the Charles County delegation. This year, however, the board of commissioners noted that they would leave all bond bill requests to the delegation.
On Tuesday, citizens came out to the College of Southern Maryland in La Plata to have their requests heard.
Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) said the delegation may not have much money to work with this session because of the state’s deficit.
“We only had about $250,000 to distribute last year,” Middleton said.
Delegation Chairwoman Del. Edith Patterson (D-Charles) said she did not know how much money the state would give them to work with this year. However, she said, “we still want to listen to requests and take them as seriously as we always do.”
Among the requests this year were $250,000 for renovations to the old Pomonkey High School by the Pomonkey High School Alumni Association, $250,000 and land transfer from the county for the Maryland Veteran’s Museum in Newburg and support for the Southern Maryland Sportplex and Learning Center.
Phillip Thomas, president of the Pomonkey High School Alumni Association, said the school is a “significant structure for African-American history in Charles County” and needs to be preserved because of that. It is one of two historic segregated high schools in the county along with the Bel Alton high school, he said, and was used as a community resource until 1958.
“The building will be used as a community center as well as for archives and research,” Thomas said. “It’d be available for use by other local, nonprofit organizations as well.”
If the requested funds are approved, Thomas said, the initial scope of repairs will include “selective” demolition of non-historic additions and some changes to worn down parts of the building. The building has been designated as a historical site by the Maryland Historical Trust, he said, and would be part of a bigger designation for the entire Pomonkey Historic District.
The total cost of the project is $1.5 million, he said.
Middleton said he wants the state to be able to help preserve the building, but because of the lack of funds they may do better requesting money from the Maryland Historical Trust, which gives grants for renovation projects like this one.
“The historical trust has put a premium on preserving African-American culture, which is a good thing,” Middleton said.
Del. Susie Proctor (D-Charles, Prince George’s) said she would hate to see a building as valuable to a community as the Pomonkey High School be lost because of failed renovations. “It’s a gem,” she said. She suggested getting an appraisal of the building and the land to see what, exactly, it is worth and move forward presenting that information to the state. Thomas said he would, but the building is “worth more than 10 times of whatever that amount is” in the lives of the people who attended school there.
Dottery Washington, the CEO of Southern Maryland Sportplex and Learning Center, said she did not have any requests for funding because the request she would make would be too large.
The facility she is looking to build in Charles County would be 100,000 square feet with three levels and different sporting activity centers for both the youth of Charles County and the elderly.
“We want everyone to be able to participate, not just the youth,” she said.
She has been in talks with former NFL players, Nike, Under Armour and many other sponsors who have been interested in investing in the center. All she needs is a space from the county, she said.
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) said he had concerns with the project because of its competition with the Capital Clubhouse, a sports complex already located in Waldorf. But the ideas and changes Washington made coming into the meeting were still encouraging, he said.
“I like that you went out and made changes to your idea and didn’t just come with the same idea. I told you about the issues I had and you addressed some of them here,” he said.
Still, she said, she needs a space to operate, but has not been able to get a meeting with the board of commissioners.
“I’ve emailed them. I’ve called them and haven’t gotten any answers. They’ve refused to meet with me, and I don’t know why,” she said.
Patterson said the delegation could write the commissioners a letter requesting that they hear Washington’s ideas, but in the meantime she should continue to try meeting with them.
Larry Abell, the president of the Mar yland Veterans Museum, said the museum has become one of the fixtures on many state garden tours and is looking for more space and artifacts to accurately represent Maryland’s heritage in the military.
Abell requested $250,000 from the delegation for renovations, land and exhibits. Currently, the museum is working on adding new exhibits featuring the Maryland 400, which was the first regiment that fought in the Revolutionary War, exhibits featuring more women who helped fight and win wars, and a Buf falo Soldiers exhibit, which was an African-American regiment that was established by congress as the first all black regiment in peacetime after the Civil War.
“We’re doing a lot of good things at the museum and trying to emphasize the importance of women and minorities in our country,” Abell said.
The museum is still waiting on approval from the county commissioners for a land extension on the museum, he said, and they have enough funding to match their requested amount in bonds.
Wilson said he appreciated the museum and what Abell has done in moving it forward. As a former soldier himself, he said he appreciates the respect and emphasis the museum puts on all of the country’s history.
“I can take my daughters there and say ‘This is where daddy actually was.’ I’ve taken them there. I can really appreciate that,” he said.