Poolesville Makes Case for New High School, Community and Health Service Center

Poolesville Makes Case for New High School, Community and Health Service Center

Report says rural area is a ‘services desert’ lacking fair resources compared to urban areas

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A rendering of what the proposed collocated high school, community center could look like.

PHOTO COURTESY EQUAL ACCESS WHITE PAPER

After a year of advocacy, Poolesville residents have rallied to draft a comprehensive list of requests to bring “equal access” to county services in upper Montgomery County.

In a white paper released Wednesday, the town of Poolesville and its Fair Access for Western Montgomery County committee outlined a proposal that would locate a new high school, health clinic, police station and community gymnasium in one facility in an effort to provide regional services to the largely rural area that the report calls a “services desert.”

The white paper is the community’s first formal, organized effort to urge county leaders to provide a multi-use facility in Poolesville, and provides a framework for what services residents feel they need.

Link Hoewing, a Poolesville Town Commission member, said the hope is the community’s organized effort will draw the attention of county leaders and demonstrate the “serious, unmet needs” of residents.

A cost estimate for the project has not been determined, he said.

“It won’t do everything, but it will do a lot for a lot of people,” Hoewing said.

Programs available in the facility, aside from the public high school, would include mental health assistance, clinical services, senior living services, after school programs, public transportation and police coverage.

Residents often travel about 20 minutes to Germantown for basic medical care. The closest county police station is in Germantown, creating safety concerns should an emergency arise, Hoewing said.

The county’s agriculture reserve houses about 1 percent of the county’s overall population, but because the population is small doesn’t mean there aren’t needs, Hoewing said. Poolesville has a population of about 5,200 people.

“Poolesville is the heart of the ag reserve but this effort really is about the wider area,” he said. “For the first time, we’ve made some real progress to get the county to notice the needs we have, but this white paper really shows we’re committed to the effort at a community level, which we hope sends a strong message.”

Arguably most important, the group said, is space that would be dedicated for a new Poolesville High School, replacing the 65-year-old building that has “inadequate” security and infrastructure.

With an enrollment of about 1,200 students, Poolesville draws students from across the county for its three magnet programs in global ecology, humanities and science, math and computer science.

Replacing the Poolesville school was included in the fiscal 2013-2018 Capital Improvement Program, with construction projected to be completed in 2023, but the county school board nixed the rebuild when it finalized its 2019-2024 capital budget, due to a lack of funds. Money has been budgeted to examine a scope of work for a renovation at the high school.

At a candidate forum in October before he was elected as county executive, Marc Elrich acknowledged the western edge of Montgomery County is underserved and said it was one of his “top concerns” to examine where and how countywide services are distributed.

District 1 Montgomery County Council member Andrew Friedson, who represents Poolesville, said he believes the Poolesville Fair Access committee has gained the traction needed to grab government officials’ attention, and said he’s committed to finding a way to provide county services in the western half of the county without disrupting the ag reserve, which is protected from over development by county legislation.

“There’s a need there and people are aware of it,” Friedson said. “Every part of the county has needs, and this area is not an exception.”

The white paper will be distributed to county officials for consideration, Poolesville leaders said.

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

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