PALS Projects Focus On Community Impact For the Fall 2023 Semester

By Brianna Rhodes / Dec 15, 2023

People walking in a green neighborhood
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PALS members identifying graves and other historic features in a community originally founded by freed African Americans in 1864 in anticipation of the Emory Grove redevelopment project. Photo courtesy of: Catherine Madsen.
Students presenting a project
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PALS students presenting the The adaptive reuse of the Hyattsville Justice Center in the Hyattsville Arts District into an Arts Center to preserve and repurpose the building. Photo courtesy of: Catherine Madsen.
Children and PALS students and members in a playground
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PALS Designing a play space for Collington Square in the East Baltimore Community. Photo courtesy of: Catherine Madsen.

This fall, the Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability program (PALS) has continued its efforts to solve Maryland’s toughest issues with the help of the university’s brightest students and faculty. Administered by MAPP’s National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG), PALS works to connect students in a variety of disciplines with real-world experiential learning while providing assistance to local Maryland jurisdictions for addressing sustainability issues.

This semester, PALS engaged in 19 projects and worked with different schools and colleges on campus such as the College of Information Studies, Robert H. Smith School of Business, School of Public Policy and MAPP. 

We spoke with PALS Program Director Kim Fisher to receive a recap of the semester and learn about updates on some projects.

“It's been a really busy semester, but there have been a lot of really fabulous projects,” said Fisher. “Some of the projects were in areas where I've never worked before and with faculty I've never worked with before, so that made it particularly cool. I'm always looking to meet new faculty and new people who have expertise that I can match up with the local communities, so it was a good semester.”

You can explore a few of the projects in detail below:


Concepts for the Adaptive Reuse of the Hyattsville Justice Center 
School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation 
Prince George’s County Planning Department 

Students in a MAPP studio course developed ideas for the adaptive reuse of the Hyattsville Justice Center, located on Rhode Island Avenue in the Hyattsville Arts District. They explored how to preserve and repurpose the empty building by turning it into an Arts Center . The students produced various ideas for the building and the property and how to connect them to the surrounding area, according to Fisher.

View photos from Concepts for the Adaptive Reuse of the Hyattsville Justice Center. 

University Boulevard Corridor Plan 
School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation 
Montgomery County Department of Planning 

MAPP students worked on another project led by Architecture Professors Matt Bell and Assistant Professor Georgeanne Matthews. In their graduate urban design studio course, the students explored challenges, opportunities and possible strategies to reimagine the Four Corners intersection in Silver Spring, Maryland. Their final deliverable for the course includes a comprehensive report showing potential interventions to the area and exploring nodes along University Boulevard’s corridor that can be reinforced and sequentially connected. Fisher said the class looked at interesting ways of incorporating a busway and how land uses could evolve. The project considered Montgomery County’s existing general plan, Thrive Montgomery 2050, and its land use recommendations for the county, according to the project’s scope of work.

View photos from the University Boulevard Corridor Plan.

Business Plan for Community Forklift 
Robert H. Smith School of Business 
Prince George’s County Planning Department 

Community Forklift is a reuse center in Hyattsville, Maryland, that serves as an important community resource. The center receives donations of building supplies, such as appliances and furniture, after buildings are renovated or torn down. The center sells these items and also donates them to community members in need. Business school students conducted research at Community Forklift,  at how to improve the center’s business, marketing and inventory process to help it gain more visibility. 

View photos from the Business Plan for Community Forklift.

Geophysical Surveys of the Emory Grove Cemetery and Church 
College of Computer, Mathematical & Natural Sciences 
Emory Grove Church

Fisher was really excited about this project this semester, as it is the first time Professor Nicholas Schmerr’s “Field Geophysics” course has worked on a project for PALS. The undergraduate and graduate students used ground penetrating radar and magnetometry, contributed by UMD’s Department of Geology, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Montgomery County, to survey Emory Grove United Methodist Church, one of Montgomery County's oldest African American churches.

Surveying two sites on the property – a parking lot near the church and a site near the current graveyard for the church - students attempted to identify sites of unmarked graves for deceased enslaved individuals and others on the property. The graveyard survey focused on establishing where there is still unused land that can be used for future burials in the graveyard.

According to the course’s scope of work, the geophysics class produced “a set of field reports that described their findings from the geophysical surveys at the two above sites, including maps of the subsurface properties, locations of likely burial sites, and geographic coordinates/shape files that can be used by the church for planning their future development(s).”

“The pastor is very thankful,” Fisher said. “Apparently, doing a survey like this would typically cost over $100,000, and so the geology class and PALS were able to really help him in a way that he couldn't have afforded otherwise.” You can read more about the course from Maryland Today.

View photos from the Geophysical Surveys of the Emory Grove Cemetery and Church.

Lakeland Community Planning Project Extension
School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Prince George’s County Planning Department

This is the second time Professor Clara Irazábal’s community planning studio has worked in the Lakeland neighborhood, an established African American community in College Park, Maryland, since the early 1900s. With the Fall 2023 studio being a continuation of the Fall 2022 studio work, graduate students worked with the community to develop a presentation on how the community envisions the future of Lakeland over the next 10 years.

“It's a difficult place for students to work because there is a history of violation of the community by the planning profession because urban redevelopment and stormwater projects basically decimated the community,” Fisher said. There's a continuing harm being done to the community even now… it is so impressive to watch how the students navigate that difficulty,” Fisher added. ”I have so much respect for the students who worked on that class. It was not an easy one.”

To learn more about updates for the course, please see an article in the Diamondback. 

View photos from the Lakeland Community Planning Project Extension.

Collington Square Play Space 
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources 
Broadway East Community & CDC 

Students from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources worked on a project for Collington Square Play Space (CSPS), located in the Broadway East Community. CSPS is a predominantly African American area in Baltimore, with only a broken swing set and a rundown play structure in the play space.

This semester, LARC 340 students visited the site and met with important stakeholders and community residents to understand the needs of the community. They discussed the possibility of replacing the broken swing with other play equipment suggested by the students and voted on by community members. The students held presentations and created a report that includes information such as site analyses, diagrams, plans, sections and illustrations. 

Although most classes' involvement with their project ends when the semester ends, some projects continue with another team. For example, Fisher and faculty members applied for the DO GOOD grant for the Geophysical Surveys of the Emory Grove Cemetery and Church and the Collington Square Play Space.

Fisher said PALS has “a number of really cool projects” in store for the Spring 2024 semester. PALS will be working with a faculty member in the Department of Art who will be making art with the material that Community Forklift collects. PALS also has a project with Anacostia Watershed where students will go out in kayaks and do water testing along the Anacostia River. 

To get updates on PALS projects, visit this web page.

View photos from the Collington Square Play Space.