2021 | Opinion

Opinion: East County needs a new elementary school, not more additions

The county already owns land in Burtonsville

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For nearly a decade, MCPS has been unable or unwilling to deal with overcrowding in East County in a comprehensive way. With limited capital dollars, the school system has decided to prioritize costly school additions over new school construction.

At Burtonsville Elementary, for example, MCPS first proposed a $12.8 million addition during the 2012-13 school year to meet projected enrollment for the 2019-20 school year.

Due to fiscal constraints, however, the project was delayed in 2015 and then shelved in 2017 when enrollment projections began to level off.

Nearby, Greencastle Elementary has faced similar issues with its own addition. The school had a proposed $11.2 million addition delayed in 2017  and shelved in 2019 .

These additions follow a $16 million addition approved earlier this year at William Tyler Page Elementary in Fairland. All three schools are within about five miles of each other. 

 

                               (from Google Maps)

 

This year, the interim superintendent has proposed restoring the Burtonsville and Greencastle additions because the schools are each projected to be 100 to 200 students over their projected capacities during the six-year planning period.

The problem with this approach is that additions increase classroom capacity, but fail to address other school capacity needs, such as cafeteria space, parent dropoff/pickup, and HVAC.

Both Burtonsville and Greencastle already have six lunch periods that start as early as 10:40 am and as late as 1:30 pm.    

This means that at Burtonsville, where the school day begins at 9:25 a.m., some young students are eating lunch soon after arriving at school, while others are eating lunch many hours later.

These large, extended lunch periods also require MCPS to divert paraeducators and other faculty from classrooms to supervise the students in the cafeteria. This further stretches the staff too thin and shifts resources away from instructional time.

Rather than fund two costly additions that do not address these and other facility issues at these aging schools, the county should instead fund the construction of a new elementary school in the Bentley Park neighborhood in Burtonsville.

According to a 2017 Office of Legislative Oversight report, a new elementary school in Montgomery County costs about $22 million to $23 million to build (pages 12-14) and can have capacity for 600 to 700 students. (Construction costs might change because of supply-chain shortages and inflation.)

While this cost estimate doesn’t include land acquisition and permitting, it roughly equals the combined cost of the two additions at Burtonsville and Greencastle. The estimates will also have to be updated due to increased construction costs.

The good news is that the county already owns land in Burtonsville for a new school. During the approval process for the Bentley Park development, the county required the developer to dedicate a 12-acre site for a future elementary school. 

Another added benefit of building a school on this site is that it is closer to the neighborhood than Burtonsville Elementary School. This would provide a safer trip and encourage some students to walk to school. Currently, students can’t walk to Burtonsville Elementary because it is located along Md. 198, a dangerous four-lane highway in Burtonsville’s commercial district.

Adding another school in Burtonsville is not only fiscally responsible, it is the right thing to do for our students and faculty.

Brian Anleu, who lives in the Hillandale area of Silver Spring, is chief of staff to the Planning Board, a former Burtonsville Elementary School parent and a current Greencastle Elementary School parent. All views expressed are his own. He is considering running for the Montgomery County Council.

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