In September 1950, 738 black students entered the new Fairmont Heights Junior-Senior High School—one of only two high schools in Prince George’s County for blacks during segregation, and the only one that offered twelfth grade. In 2017, the last students left that building, which now sits vacant.
While the students have moved on, the community is concerned the property could become an economic burden and its deterioration a threat to the stability of the surrounding neighborhoods. Although the Greater Cheverly Sector Plan set incremental planning policies, the future of the site remains unclear.
As part of a Planning Assistance to Municipalities and Communities (PAMC) project, a consultant is conducting an economic study of transit-oriented development (TOD) near Fairmont Heights High School and the Cheverly Metro Station to offer suggestions for reuse of the property. The report is in response to the Greater Cheverly Sector Plan, which called for “a feasibility study that examines financially sustainable adaptive reuse and rehabilitation opportunities of the site, including analysis of potential uses such as affordable housing, senior housing, housing for special needs populations, community education and recreation, and performing arts and cultural uses.”
Fairmont Heights High School, noticeably missing the “u” found in the town name of Fairmount Heights, was designated a Prince George’s County Historic Site in 2010. The school was integral in the fight for desegregation.
Despite the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling to integrate schools, Prince George’s County continued segregation until it later offered “freedom choice,” which offered all students a choice to transfer schools—but those transfers were often denied. The federal government got involved in 1968, and mandatory desegregation finally happened in 1970. However, so many white students transferred out of the school that less than half the white students districted for the school attended there. A 1972 lawsuit showed that the district was not desegregated enough and ended with the school board’s plan to bus 32,863 students.
Talk of closing the school began in the 1970s, but the community fought to keep it open because of its rich history. Then, in 1980, a fire in the five-level building required extensive renovation. An attempt to rename the school after it reopened in 1983 was also fought by the community.
“It is a significant landmark as a point of pride and achievement in the African-American community,” according to the Maryland Historical Trust.
At the height of segregation, two-thirds of black high school students in Prince George’s County attended Fairmont Heights, which boasts alumni such as Marvin Gaye and Tommie Broadwater. The other third attended Frederick Douglass High School.
In 2007, a feasibility study showed the need for a new school building and recommended the reuse of the old building as a facility for learning, athletics, or a museum to celebrate black achievement. The students moved into a new building in September 2017.
More about PAMC
The Prince George’s County Planning Department of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission announces the re-launch of Prince George’s County Planning Assistance to Municipalities and Communities (PAMC). The program is designed to help municipalities and qualified civic organizations obtain planning assistance or funding to implement economic development goals recommended in approved master plans, sector plans, or General Plan.
PAMC is intended to bring planning services into communities to make technical expertise accessible, help produce and share information, stimulate public discussion about planning, and encourage community partnerships. Projects may involve planning studies, design work, and community education and outreach. Municipalities and qualified civic organizations located within Prince George’s County are encouraged to apply. For information on examples of projects and to download an application, visit http://www.pgplanning.org/PAMC.htm.
To be considered for the 2019 fiscal year, applications must be submitted electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org by October 29, 2018, or March 31, 2019. Submitted applications will be reviewed by the PAMC Application Review Committee and referred to the Planning Board or the Planning Director. PAMC is administered by the Neighborhood Revitalization Section in the Prince George’s County Planning Department.
For more information or questions regarding PAMC contact Wendy Irminger at 301-952-3572 or email@example.com. To obtain print copies of the application, call 301-952-3646.