2020 | Bethesda Beat

Agreement reached for new elementary school site

6 acres of Kelley Park to be used for school

Rendering via MCPS

The Montgomery County Board of Education on Tuesday finalized an agreement with the city of Gaithersburg for a new elementary school.

Since 2016, the school board has been exploring the possibility of a new facility — called Gaithersburg Elementary School No. 8 — to ease crowding at schools in the city.

In 2018, the school board settled on using a portion of Kelley Park, on Victory Farm Drive, for the school, pending agreement with city officials to obtain the land.

On Monday, the Gaithersburg City Council approved transferring ownership of about 6 acres of the 28-acre site to the school district.

On Tuesday, the school board approved the agreement.

As part of the agreement, the city will construct a field that will be maintained and operated by the city. Whether the surface of the field will be natural grass or artificial turf has not been determined, and is to be decided by Gaithersburg city officials, according to the agreement. MCPS and Gaithersburg will share use of the field once it is completed. MCPS will pay for the field’s installation, at a cost of up to $800,000.

A new walking path will be built around the school site, according to the agreement.

In October, MCPS officials unveiled a rendering of the proposed school on the Kelley Park site. It showed a 95,000-square-foot school that could hold 740 students.

The $26 million project is expected to be completed in September 2022.

All elementary schools in the city, except Laytonsville Elementary, are projected to be over capacity by 2024.

The new school will require a boundary study to determine which students from other schools will be redistricted to fill its seats.

The school board has authorized the boundary study, which will begin this spring. It will include all seven elementary schools in the Gaithersburg High School cluster, along with Forest Oak and Gaithersburg middle schools.

A report from Superintendent Jack Smith is expected in the fall, with final school board action in March 2021.

A group of community members banded together to form the group “Save Kelley Park” in opposition to a new school being built on the site for fear of restricting local residents’ access to its amenities.

Gaithersburg City Council members approved the project Monday in a 4-1 vote, with Robert Wu as the lone dissenting vote. He said he was not necessarily opposed to the project, but needed more time to vet it.

Wu wanted language in the agreement that MCPS should pay stormwater management fees and that the city automatically retain ownership of the land if MCPS no longer uses it as a school in the future. The language is not in the final agreement.

Council Member Neil Harris said the Kelley Park site “seemed like a reasonable choice to make.”

An alternate location at nearby Victory Farm Park was not feasible due to its topography, MCPS officials have said. It would cost an additional $10 million to build there.

“They’re giving us a $30 million elementary school with state-of-the-art facilities,” Harris said. “I don’t think that should be underemphasized.”

Council Member Ryan Spiegel said the agreement between the city and MCPS is “far from perfect,” but is good, and securing a new school has been “a top, top priority for many years.”

“We have to ask ourselves whether we believe Kelley Park … although changed, will continue to be a vibrant public space for the adjacent neighborhoods,” Spiegel said.

MCPS staff members have said that the majority of the park will still be available for public use either during or after the school day.

All of the spaces in the school that could be used for public events — the cafeteria and gymnasium, for example — are along the northern edge of the L-shaped building, adjacent to outdoor play spaces. Those areas could be cordoned off from the rest of the building.

“I know this isn’t exactly what everyone in the Gaithersburg community wanted, but it’s something we really need,” said school board member Rebecca Smondrowski, who lives in Gaithersburg.