The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday took the final step to approve a major building project at South Lake Elementary School in Gaithersburg.
The County Council voted unanimously to approve a $5.8 million special appropriation to the Montgomery County Public Schools construction budget to fund a rebuild of the school, which activists and community leaders have said is in dire condition.
The project, scheduled now to be completed in 2023, includes tearing down the existing school, built in 1972, and replacing it with a new building.
The problems in the South Lake building now — including persistent rodent infestations, air quality and HVAC malfunctions, and lack of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance — are insurmountable, MCPS Director of Facilities Management Seth Adams said during a school board meeting in August.
In May, as the county grappled with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the Montgomery County Council voted to delay several building projects, including South Lake. The council prioritized keeping projects that will increase capacity at high school buildings.
The action delayed the completion of the South Lake project one year, to 2024.
In August, the school board voted to accelerate the project one year to put it back on track for a completion date in 2023, as complaints about the current building stack up.
Tuesday’s County Council action affirms the school board’s vote and provides the funding for the project.
The project will be funded through savings found by other projects coming in under budget.
“This (project) was one we promised and we promised and we promised,” Council Member Sidney Katz said. “… We’re now filling that promise.”
Council members complimented community advocates and the school community for pressuring them to fund the project for several years.
“It helps to be pushed,” Council Member Will Jawando said. “I think this was a perfect example of that.”
The County Council on Tuesday also approved a $3 million appropriation for MCPS to improve some of its HVAC systems to “address air quality concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a county staff report.
MCPS on Thursday is scheduled to vote on its school reopening plan, which includes beginning to bring students back for face-to-face instruction by mid-January. The plan relies on improved COVID-19 metrics. Good air flow and air quality are important to preventing the spread of the virus in buildings, according to national studies.
An additional $900,000 will be saved to address future budget needs or “emerging facility needs related to the COVID-19 health pandemic,” council documents said.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org