The College Park Arts Exchange “didn’t necessarily envision” teaching ballet and yoga in city council chambers, exchange director Melissa Sites said. While it’s an “odd” location for the classes, Sites said that’s what the group, a grassroots organization that promotes arts and cultural activities in College Park, has resorted to since the Old Parish House in Old Town closed last spring.
“Since the Old Parish House has been closed, all of our events have had to be scheduled elsewhere,” she said. “It’s curtailed the types of workshops we’ve been able to do.”
With meeting space in the Old Parish House and Davis Hall in northern College Park unavailable recently, city groups and committees have been struggling to find places to gather, District 3 Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich said.
“We have needed additional space for staff for a long time,” said College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn. “We’ve been really constrained in our ability to expand the city staff even as the city’s been growing over the past several years.”
The public works department has occupied the meeting space in Davis Hall for several months while the city replaces an attached building the department regularly uses, Wojahn said, noting that the construction will be completed within the month. The Old Parish House, where CPAE used to hold classes and workshops, will open by June, the city clerk’s office said. It is the second oldest building in College Park, and closed in May 2016 after a city inspector deemed it unsafe.
“[The College Park Arts Exchange was] rolling right along and then it was like — one day — ‘I’m sorry the Parish House is locked, the roof could fall at any minute,” Sites said about holding events in the space.
For Bonnie McClellan, a College Park Woods resident and member of the Explorations on Aging group in College Park, accessibility has been an important factor in finding space to meet now that the Old Parish House is closed.
The group, which focuses on seniors who wish to “age in place” in the College Park community, is holding a senior arts exhibition at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on College Avenue on May 12.
However, even the Old Parish House had a hard time accommodating the 200 people who showed up to the arts exhibition last year, McClellan said.
College Park resident Leslie Montroll started a needle arts group 14 years ago that used to meet every Friday at the Old Parish House. Now, it meets in the Berwyn Heights Town Hall.
“Because we were lucky enough that several of our members live in Berwyn Heights … that is where we landed,” she said, adding she’s happy construction on the Old Parish House is underway so her group can get back to meeting there.
While the youth and family services building on Nantucket Road, across Route 1 from Shoppers can feasibly serve as a meeting space, there are concerns about confidentiality, Wojahn said, as family services hosts counseling services there.
To combat the need for more space, Sites has changed around some of the events CPAE offers. Instead of running hands on and visual art workshops that were easy to clean up and could hold 12 to 15 people at the Old Parish House, such as paper-making, she hosted a creative writing workshop at the College Park Community Library on Rhode Island Avenue this fall.
Certain events, such as a “mini-bop kids disco” — a two-hour disco for children and their parents complete with Sites’ own strobe lights — wouldn’t work as well in a space other than the Old Parish House, Sites said.
The upcoming child care center on Calvert Road and the new City Hall that will be built within the next couple years will help fill the need for more space, Wojahn said. He added the council will consider buying an empty College Park Woods Swim Club clubhouse for community space.
Sites, McClellan and Montroll said they look forward to the increase in community space that will be made available in years to come.
The child care center, which is slated to open in fall 2018, is a partnership between the city and the University of Maryland that will provide community space for residents at night and on the weekends.
The new city hall will be a partnership between the city and the university as well and will be located on the same block of Knox Road as the current building, Wojahn said. He added it will break ground in two years, and be completed within four to five years.
The joint city-university hall will also have an adjoining office building with a ground floor for retail, Stullich added.
“[College Park] basically outgrew city hall about 20 years ago,” she said.
Though the city space will continue to be an issue for the College Park Arts Exchange for the time being, Sites said the issue helped the group branch out and interact with more of College Park. The group has partnered with local churches to host events at places other than the Old Parish House, she said, and now hosts a yoga class at the White Lotus Wellness Center on Berwyn Road.
“That’s kind of what the College Park Arts Exchange wants to do,” Sites said. “… It’s kind of a blessing in disguise.”