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The Issue: The opening of the Eckstine and Ellington Theatre within the Dorothy Height Community Academy Public Charter School (CAPCS) caused a stir among Bates neighborhood residents. The 850-seat state-of-the-art theater, along with other meeting and conference rooms, is available for rental by outside groups, and residents were caught off guard to learn that. Traffic and parking are one concern; another is the apparent lack of communication between the school and residents.

The Stir: Members of the Bates Area Civic Association say that while the school and community have worked together on various issues in the past, communication is far from ideal. Residents weren’t aware that the school had opened up the theater for non-community usage. “We’re just worried about how far will they strain away from being a school. When they arrived we were under the impression this was a charter school that will run as a school and not something of a convention center,” says Derek Vollmer, a member of the association’s community relations committee. The school already leases space to Metropolitan Baptist Church while construction on the church’s Prince George’s County location is in progress. Vollmer thinks the school could do a better job informing the community of its plans. “It’s as if they bought the property and they feel they can do whatever they want without consulting the community,” says Vollmer.

You Can’t Handcuff Us: Wesley Harvey, director of operations with CAPCS, told City Desk he doesn’t see any harm in opening up the school to others. While the school does strive to work with the community, he says, the community doesn’t have the right to dictate any decisions for the school. “The community can’t handcuff us,” says Harvey. He says the school’s facilities are for everyone, no matter where they’re from: “We are inviting other charter and public schools within the community as well as other groups that are interested to use our facilities. Some theater events will be free, while others will have a small fee. But Harvey says the school is not looking at this as a money-maker.

What’s Next?: Harvey concedes that representatives from CAPCS did attend local Advisory Neighborhood Commission and civic meetings months ago. But he says he is open to having ongoing discussions with the community.  “I would love to meet with the community monthly to discuss any concerns,” says Harvey.