Rockville Proposal To Allow More Students at Richard Montgomery High Questioned

City Council studying options that would not stifle development but could crowd school

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In an emerging debate over economic growth and school crowding, Rockville City Council members seem split on a proposal that would allow hundreds of additional students at Richard Montgomery High School.

New enrollment-growth projections for the school could trigger a moratorium on residential building and Rockville City Council member Mark Pierzchala has suggested increasing a cap so development could advance.

At a Monday night public meeting, the idea drew concerns.

“Should the education of our students really be compromised for the sake of development in the city?” one resident asked during a public comment period of the council meeting.

Based on school district projections, Richard Montgomery and Walter Johnson high schools would be placed in moratorium beginning July 1, meaning any residential development application filed after that date would be denied under current standards.

The existing cap before a moratorium is 120 percent of capacity, and Pierzchala proposes to increase the cap to 150 percent. The 2,500-student school is currently at 112 percent of its capacity, according to MCPS data.

Projections show Richard Montgomery would be 463 students – or 121 percent – over capacity by the 2023-2024 school year, and at 130 percent capacity by 2028.

When Rockville’s school capacity test was originally adopted in 2005, development projects in Rockville were denied if the projected enrollment at any school in its area exceeded 110 percent in the next two years.

In 2015, the City Council amended its Adequate Public Facilities Standards to phase in capacity standards to 120 percent within five years.

Pierzchala’s proposal to change the standards would allow development in the struggling Rockville Town Center and near the Twinbrook Metro station, where he says projects are needed or have been approved.

While some residents said severe crowding would harm childrens’ educational experience, Pierzchala countered their argument has no merit, saying his daughter attended classes in temporary classrooms, sometimes called portables, and was unharmed.

Mayor Bridget Newton said excessive crowding could negatively affect physical and mental health.

“If a student is standing in the line for the restroom because the school is severely overcrowded and the school bell is ringing and they have to choose to not use the restroom, that’s a problem,” Newton said.

A public hearing on the plan is scheduled for Jan. 7, with a possible council vote a week later.

Several citizens urged the council to postpone the public hearing until at least the end of January or later to allow time to consider the proposal’s implications and for citizens who travel for the holidays to provide input. They said rushing a decision is reckless and unconscionable.

Attorney Bob Dalrymple representing developers of the Twinbrook Quarter project, a proposal for 11 buildings along Rockville Pike at Halpine Road with residences, offices and shops, said not increasing school capacity limits would have severe negative impacts on the city’s economy.

If city officials make the proposed changes while also making “responsible decisions on the planning and zoning side,” there won’t be any significant issues, he said.

“The city does not control decisions related to school funding, but it does control the economic development growth of the city,” Dalrymple said. “I would suggest it’s a competitive disadvantage to the city to not make the changes suggested here.”

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