A rendering of a lobby area that is part of the Whitman High School addition project. Credit: Rendering via RRMM Lukmire Architects

The Montgomery County Planning Board this week approved a 75,000-square-foot, three-story addition to ease crowding at Bethesda’s Walt Whitman High School.

The project will add space for nearly 400 additional students, according to Planning Board documents.

The Montgomery County Board of Education in February allocated $24.5 million for the project that will entail demolishing the former Whittier Woods Elementary School and Whittier Woods Annex, and replacing them with 18 classrooms, five science labs, a courtyard and dance studio.

The project will also include renovations to first-floor classrooms to accommodate physical education classes, and a redesign of the student drop-off area that will separate bus traffic, car traffic and parking areas to relieve congestion during peak hours before and after school.

Planning staff recommended the school system implement bicycle parking areas and future development of the campus be limited to accommodate no more than 2,800 students unless an updated traffic study is conducted.

Without the addition, Whitman would be nearly 275 students over capacity by the 2021-2022 school year. The project is scheduled to be completed in September 2021. The addition will raise the school’s capacity from 1,866 to 2,262 students.

While construction is ongoing, MCPS officials say there will be fewer parking spaces available for students because portable classrooms will be placed in existing parking areas to accommodate classes.

The school is currently developing a plan for distributing parking permits and will share that information with the community in early August, according to an MCPS spokeswoman.

“Construction and the placement of portables will significantly reduce student parking down to approximately 110 spaces,” Gboyinde Onijala, the spokeswoman, said. “This is unfortunate but unavoidable. They are exploring other options like the use of external lots for satellite parking but these are just inquiries at this point.”

Whitman, named for the American poet, opened in 1962 and underwent additions in 1980, 1992, 1999 and 2002, according to school board documents.

Space above the third floor will be designated for future expansion, which would raise the school’s capacity to 2,700 students, with 15 new classrooms, a technology education lab and four science labs.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com