Placeholder Classroom Project Would Allow White Flint Development to Continue

Placeholder Classroom Project Would Allow White Flint Development to Continue

County Council hopes to put project into the budget to avoid development moratorium in Walter Johnson High School cluster

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Walter Johnson High School

Aaron Kraut

The Montgomery County Council appears likely to approve a placeholder classroom project for Walter Johnson High School that will allow some major White Flint development projects to move forward.

Last week, the council introduced a $3.1 million, eight-classroom addition for the Bethesda school in the county’s six-year capital budget in order to avoid a development moratorium in the area.

The project will act purely as a placeholder – the eight classrooms won’t actually be built. That will allow at least two anticipated redevelopment projects in the White Flint area to move forward in the county’s approval process.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County Public Schools staff and an architect are working on a feasibility study for an actual addition project to the school. They hope to have the study done in time for consideration in the county’s next six-year capital budget, which will be finalized next spring.

Walter Johnson is projected to reach 119.8 percent of its capacity over the next five years, meaning any newly proposed development in the cluster area could put it over the county’s 120-percent of capacity mark that triggers the development moratorium.

Progress would stop immediately on two major projects in White Flint—developer Saul Centers’ plan for high-rise apartments along Rockville Pike and East Village at North Bethesda, a joint apartment project between Promark and Foulger-Pratt just north of White Flint Mall.

As the council often does when school clusters near moratorium status, it will consider the placeholder project to allow development to move forward in the near-term.

A council staff report on the placeholder noted that the actual Walter Johnson High School addition project is likely to be approved by the Board of Education and council next spring.

“MCPS staff has assured Council staff that a specific capacity-adding project will be developed by this fall, that it will be included in the Superintendent’s request for the FY 17-22 [capital budget], and that it will be recommended for completion by the start of the 2020-2021 school year,” deputy council administrator Glenn Orlin wrote.

The high school, at 6400 Rock Spring Drive, was renovated and modernized just six years ago and has a capacity of 2,345 students. But its enrollment is projected to soar to 2,798 students by the 2020-2021 school year, according to MCPS.

If enrollment at any school in any of the public school system’s 25 clusters surpasses 120 percent of capacity, all new residential development in that cluster must stop according to the county’s growth policy.

Walter Johnson had 2,261 students in the 2014-2015 school year.

A public hearing on the placeholder project is set for July 21 and a council vote on the move is expected July 28.

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