Planning board frustrated with rebuilding plan for Woodward High School

Planning board frustrated with ‘unsatisfactory’ plan for new Woodward High School

Proposal was missing stormwater management plan

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A rendering of the front of Woodward High School.

File photo

The Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday voiced its frustration with school district leaders who presented what the board called an “unsatisfactory” plan for rebuilding Woodward High School.

Usually a routine item on Planning Board agendas, discussion about the plan quickly deteriorated when MCPS and Planning Department staff members presented a proposal missing a key component — the stormwater management plan.

“This plan is not ready for approval,” Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson said. “… I really am not interested in getting into a beef over this with MCPS. I’m just saying this is not satisfactory.”

Stormwater management plans — required for each development project that comes before the Planning Board — detail efforts to reduce runoff of rainwater or melted snow into streets, lawns and other properties.

Seth Adams, director of MCPS’ Department of Facilities Management, said, “Not to make excuses, but we’ve certainly been in a pandemic that’s caused more challenges than anyone expected, this certainly being one of them.”

The Planning Board approved part of the plan — the forest conservation piece — but will require MCPS to bring the rest of the plan back for consideration later.

Planning Board members offered to hold a special session in August, so the project doesn’t fall behind schedule.

“I offer that as I’m trying to bend over backward not to compromise your ability to get this project done without undue delay but … this is not OK,” Anderson said. “Yes, there’s a pandemic, but we’ve been talking about this project for more than a year.”

The school, on Old Georgetown Road, will be overhauled to serve about 2,700 students from nearby areas. The project is expected to cost MCPS about $120 million, according to school district documents.

The plans show two phases of construction. The first will include renovating the Woodward High building for use as a temporary school for Northwood High School students from 2023 to 2025 as Northwood undergoes an extensive renovation.

It includes building outdoor tennis and basketball courts, a new bus loop and part of a parking garage, according to Planning Board documents.

Then, in 2025, Woodward will reopen as a new MCPS high school, complete with an athletic stadium. The Planning Board will review plans for the second phase of construction later.

The square building has a large central courtyard, to be used for performances, teaching and casual activities. Staff members are considering dividing the courtyard area into smaller sections, possibly including an amphitheater, a terrace and seating, according to school board documents.

The school, proposed to include a performing arts magnet program, has arts space on all three floors.

Many of the classroom spaces will be “flexible,” with movable walls to create classrooms that “respond to the school’s needs,” according to MCPS.

To ensure the cafeteria doesn’t need to accommodate nearly 3,000 students at once, architects have included additional areas throughout the building as smaller meal rooms. The goal, they said, is to have about four serving lines in the main cafeteria and about three in other areas throughout the building.

Woodward sits on a 27-acre site that was developed in 1967. The existing building can hold about 1,200 students. For several years, it has acted as a temporary school for Tilden Middle School while that building undergoes a construction project.

In letters to the Planning Board, some community members raised concerns about the project. One nearby homeowner wrote that removing the proposed 2.7 acres of forest from the site to build athletic facilities is short-sighted, and said she’s worried about increased traffic, noise, light and litter in the neighborhood.

Residents of a nearby condominium and staff members at Trinity Lutheran Church wrote that they, too, were concerned about increased traffic around the site, traffic and pedestrian safety and that people might park along streets in their neighborhood.

Montgomery County Parks Department staff members were concerned that the removal of some fields that community groups now rent will “exacerbate field shortages.”

The Parks Department staff said the fields are some of the most often used in the county.

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

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