SUITLAND – Neighborhood activists whooped and hollered at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new $1.1 million fence around the Suitland Federal Center complex Tuesday, a project that is seen as the first step in rejuvenating their community.
The new wrought-iron and brick fence replaced one made of chain link and barbed wire that community members said made the 185-acre complex look like a prison.
“The fence has come down and spirits are up!” Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D- Baltimore, told the audience of activists, federal employees and local officials.
Mikulski led the effort in Congress that secured funding for the new fence in the 1999 federal budget. She was joined by about 75 people, including employees from the complex and federal and state officials, who gathered for speeches in a heated tent before stepping outside to cut the ribbon in the bitter cold.
“Oh, happy day, oh happy day!” said Prince George’s County Council Chairwoman Dorothy F. Bailey, who led the audience in a rousing cheer for Mikulski, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, Rep. Albert R. Wynn, D-Largo, and other federal officials.
The new black-iron and beige-brick fence symbolizes the future of a revitalized Suitland and shows what people can accomplish when they work together, said Janice A. Euell, president of the Suitland Citizens Association.
Euell, a 28-year resident of Suitland, saw the original chain-link fence go up in 1988. She said it was to have been a short-term security measure to protect employees’ cars from being stolen.
But it stayed, and then barbed wire was added to the top. That’s when citizens and business owners began lobbying to get it removed, she said.
Mikulski noted that the new fence is secure without being ugly. Guarded gates help protect the nearly 8,500 employees who work inside at the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies.
Sarbanes said the fence, which stretches for more than a mile along Suitland and Silver Hill roads, is part of a long-term plan to renovate the aging federal center buildings in the complex.
“This is one step … in the effort to transform this community,” Sarbanes said. “We’re going to end up making it [the federal center] a showplace” that will help bring new businesses to Suitland.
That effort could get a boost when a new Metro station opens at Silver Hill Road and Suitland Parkway, which is scheduled for early next year.