Why a new elementary school in Hyattsville is nicknamed ‘the Chia Pet School’

There’s something different about an elementary school opening Monday in Hyattsville, Maryland: A lot of it was built in another state and then shipped in.

The Cherokee Lane Elementary School is nicknamed the “Chia Pet School” because it essentially popped up over the course of a weekend, said Joseph Howell, the senior project manager for Prince George’s County Public Schools.

The school’s off-site/on-site construction is said to be a first for the state.

“The total two-story addition was done off-site,” Howell said.

Cherokee Lane Elementary School was built largely in Pennsylvania and assembled essentially over a weekend in Hyattsville.

The modular classrooms were built in Pennsylvania.

Meghan Gebreselassie and senior project manager Joseph Howell, of Prince George’s County Public Schools, at the new Cherokee Lane Elementary School.

There’s something different about an elementary school opening Monday in Hyattsville, Maryland: A lot of it was built in another state and then shipped in.

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The prefabricated module classrooms were built in Pennsylvania, inspected by Maryland officials, disassembled and shipped south. In all, the move involved 175 tractor-trailers hauling parts.

Building the Cherokee Lane school could have taken 16 to 18 months using traditional methods, Howell said, but doing it this way took less than a year.

One of the school’s safety and security features includes magnetic “hold open” doors.

Double doors positioned at various points down a long hallway are held open by magnets. They can be closed remotely if the school’s front office turns the magnets off.

In case of an emergency, flipping a switch blocks access to specific areas. The surveillance camera system and school design allows for no blind spots inside or outside the building.

“There’ll be able to see anybody, anywhere, in any crack and crevice of the school,” Howell said.

In case of fire, windows have kick-out panels to allow firefighters easy access to evacuate children. It also has what Howell called a refuge.

“If there is a child who requires the use of a wheelchair, and God forbid should a fire happen, the kids will be located to the refuge area and the fire department will actually know where to go to retrieve the kids,” Howell said.

The school also has green features promoting sustainability and upon certification will gain LEED Silver accreditation.


Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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