Four sites dropped from consideration for new Bethesda school

Four sites dropped from consideration for new Bethesda school

Ayrlawn Park among those cut from list

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School site meeting

Barbara Moskowitz, at left, standing with microphone, speaks on Tuesday during a meeting to discuss possible sites for a new elementary school in Bethesda. Moskowitz led a group that opposed considering Ayrlawn Park as a site. Seth Adams, the director of MCPS’ Department of Facilities Management, listens at right.

Photo by Andrew Schotz

Four possible sites for a new Bethesda school were dropped Tuesday during a community meeting, leaving six.

One of the four was Ayrlawn Park. Its inclusion on the list during earlier rounds led to the formation of a group opposed to having a school there.

Montgomery County Public Schools is studying where to open another elementary school in about six years to relieve crowding in the Walter Johnson and Bethesda-Chevy Chase high school clusters.

“There are capacity issues in both the Walter Johnson and B-CC clusters, but not to the point where a new elementary school for each cluster makes sense,” MCPS spokesman Derek Turner has said.

Seth Adams, the director of MCPS’ Department of Facilities Management, announced Tuesday at the start of a community meeting at North Bethesda Middle School that the list of 10 choices has been cut to six.

More than 100 people attended the meeting to hear the latest on the search for a school site.

The four sites being removed from the list are Ayrlawn Park on Oakmont Avenue, Alta Vista on Beech Avenue, Rocking Horse on Macon Road, and Montrose Center on Academy Way. Adams said there are challenges with those sites — particularly their current and future use.

The Ayrlawn Park site, in particular, drew criticism for the complications attached to it.

One factor was a YMCA program center that serves hundreds of people in various programs and camps at the park. It would have had to move to make way for a school.

Another is that the school system would have had to ask Montgomery Parks to use adjacent land, a topic that had not been broached. Placing a school there would have limited the use of the park while school is in session.

Applause broke out when Adams said sites were being eliminated from contention.

The remaining sites under consideration (some of which have buildings now used for other reasons or unused) are:

  • Grosvenor Elementary School on Grosvenor Lane (a current holding facility for school construction projects)
  • Kensington Elementary School on Detrick Avenue
  • Lynnbrook Center on Lynnbrook Drive in East Bethesda (site of a former school)
  • WMAL on Greentree Road
  • Two White Flint properties. The last two properties have been called White Flint South and White Flint North, but there was some confusion at the end of Tuesday’s meeting about whether the correct address was considered for one of them. MCPS and DLR Group, a school design firm helping with the site selection, will work on preparing a summary of the correct site, if needed.

The new elementary school would be designed for about 740 students and would be three stories. Plans for the sites that remain in contention range from about four to six acres.

In 2018, MCPS started looking for a possible school site for the Walter Johnson cluster. Last year, the search broadened, to consider a site Walter Johnson and Bethesda-Chevy Chase could share.

In October, the district released a list of 10 possible sites, many of which included building in public park areas.

After further review, the list was changed this month. All of the park properties except Ayrlawn were removed. Six new sites were added: Alta Vista, Kensington, Rocking Horse, WMAL and the two White Flint properties.

Adams and Erika Lehman of DLR Group led Tuesday’s presentation, which generated many comments and questions from the audience.

Adams said the calculations for growth in the area can change as development projects move ahead, are scaled back or are canceled.

A school project also depends on funding, Adams said. He noted that County Executive Marc Elrich has recommended about $100 million less for capital improvements over six years than MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith proposed, and other possible funding has been moved to later years.

The fact that Ayrlawn made it through two rounds of consideration — before Tuesday’s change — caused consternation in the neighborhood and at the YMCA.

Barbara Moskowitz of Oakmont Avenue created a group called Save Ayrlawn Park to oppose putting a school there. The group cited numerous problems, such as increased traffic in the neighborhood and narrow streets. It also criticized the fact that the school system did not own all of the land it needed and was relying on Montgomery Parks to provide more, but had no arrangement in place for that to happen.

Save Ayrlawn Park had a website, a mailing list with nearly 200 families and a petition with hundreds of opponents’ names. It created yard signs with its message.

At a center at Ayrlawn Park, for more than 30 years, the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington has run programs for hundreds of children in the area.

Carla Larrick, the YMCA’s vice president of operations, said the center provides care to about 300 children and has about 3,000 slots for camps in arts, sports and other activities. “We take care of those that other providers do not,” she said in an interview last week.

Many people at Tuesday’s community meeting wore shirts showing their support for the YMCA; Some had signs to keep the park as it is.

Moskowitz urged MCPS to look “somewhere below the moon” and be more realistic before deciding a site could be used for a school.

“I know it has been an anxiety-filled process,” Adams told the crowd after announcing the narrower list of sites to be considered. “That is not our intent.”

MCPS and DLR Group have been surveying the community for feedback about a site for a new school. There were almost 400 responses as of Tuesday. The survey will remain open as the list of possibilities is changed.

Jim Bradley, a former Walter Johnson cluster coordinator who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said he was part of a previous site selection committee. He said the feeling at the time was that Grosvenor was the best choice.

Others chimed in their support for Grosvenor, too, on Tuesday.

Raylene Grant, the PTA president at Ashburton Elementary School, said her school has hundreds more students than it was designed for, making it tough for kids to get their lunch every day.

Even though Grosvenor is being used now as a holding school, it makes sense to use it to alleviate crowding, she said.

MCPS and DLR Group will spend more time studying the remaining six school sites, looking at traffic and other issues. No timetable was given Tuesday for further review.

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