A Closer Look at MCPS Superintendent’s Proposed Fiscal 2020 Capital Budget, CIP Amendments

Projects include boundary studies, security upgrades, major capital improvements and more

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MCPS

The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) superintendent recently rolled out his capital budget for fiscal 2020 and amendments to the capital improvements plan (CIP) for fiscal years 2019-2024 that aim to tackle intensifying overcrowding problems in county schools, including the possibility of reopening Woodward High School.

Shaped by the pressures of an ever-increasing student population and the need for upgrades at aging facilities, Superintendent Jack Smith’s proposal includes options for reopening Woodward High School in Rockville for use by 2025, as well as a capacity study for all elementary schools in the Walter Johnson (WJ) and Bethesda-Chevy Chase (B-CC) clusters to address overcrowding.

The options include nearby Northwood High School, which is slated to undergo an expansion to help ease overcrowding. The two approaches for the project include phased construction with students remaining on-site or using Woodward High School as a holding school for Northwood for two years, beginning in September 2023.

The first option would require the use of approximately 50 relocatable classrooms and construction could cause disruptions to student learning, MCPS staff says. Doing construction while students remain in the school limits potential design options and would increase the project’s cost.

Under the phased construction plan, building would begin as early as Jan. 2023 with a minimum of five years of construction.

School officials believe utilizing Woodward High School as a holding facility would eliminate some issues that arise with phased construction.

Northwood students would relocate to Woodward for the 2023-2024 school year and return to Northwood in September 2025.
Additionally, a capacity study to evaluate how WJ and B-CC clusters can best utilize existing facilities while easing overcrowding is expected to commence this year.

Also discussed was the possibility of utilizing Grosvenor Center in Bethesda as a new elementary school.

At the school board’s first work session about Smith’s proposals last week, member Pat O’Neill voiced concern about overcrowding in Bethesda-area schools, saying many of the schools in the WJ cluster are “drastically overcrowded,” and the issue will only intensify, she said.

“My thinking is we need to get going, and sooner rather than later, because we have a problem right now,” O’Neill said. “A lot is hanging on it.”

Nine schools are outlined in Smith’s proposal for major capital improvement projects. At recent school board meetings, MCPS staff has outlined issues and/or potential projects at each school.

• Burnt Mills Elementary School, Silver Spring: Provide accessibility to split-level area of the school, and “fix multiple issues in one approach.”

• South Lake Elementary School, Gaithersburg: Built with an open concept design, the elementary school has many wedged-shaped classrooms and columns throughout the building. Described as “terrible,” by Smith, the project at South Lake is expected to “meet the needs of today’s students.”

• Stonegate Elementary School, Silver Spring: With similar issues as South Lake Elementary School, Stonegate also has a growing student population and a project there would aim to eliminate all issues at once.

• Woodlin Elementary School, Silver Spring: Woodlin Elementary School is the only MCPS school without a bus loop, and its student drop off area is constrained.

• Neelsville Elementary School, Germantown: Administrative offices are “buried” deep within the building, presenting a “tremendous security challenge.”

• Damascus High School: The most critical challenge at Damascus High School is the same as Neelsville Elementary — administration is not located at the school’s main entrance.

• Magruder High School, Derwood: Planners say available programs and capacity will drive the Magruder High School project.

• Poolesville High School: The major project priority is connecting each of the school’s wings.

• Wootton High School, Rockville: The project at Wootton would address Americans with Disabilities Act requirements the school currently does not meet both inside and outside of the building.

A recommended noncapital project includes upgrading school security at eight schools, totaling $28 million. Schools identified for security upgrades are Bannockburn Elementary School in Bethesda, Belmont Elementary School in Olney, Forest Knolls Elementary School in Silver Spring, Rosemary Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring, Watkins Mill Elementary School in Montgomery Village, Whetstone Elementary School in Montgomery Village and White Oak Middle School.

The school board is expected to take final action on Smith’s proposals at its Nov. 27 meeting. First, there will be public hearings on Nov. 8, 12 and 19, all to be held at 6 p.m at the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville. The recommendations will then be transmitted to the Montgomery County Council for consideration and possible adoption in May.

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