Design for New Elementary School in Gaithersburg Includes Nearby Public Amenities
Loss of softball field offset by new playgrounds, school district says
A rendering of a new elementary school proposed to be built in Gaithersburg.
Initial plans for a new elementary school in Gaithersburg include removing a softball field from the park on which it would sit. But, school district staff members say they will replace the field with an array of public amenities, including a “tot lot” and a playground.
The 95,000-square-foot school, proposed to sit on a portion of Kelley Park, would hold 740 students, easing capacity pressures at other Gaithersburg elementary schools.
All elementary schools in the city, except Laytonsville Elementary, are projected to be over capacity by 2024.
The school board unanimously approved the preliminary plans on Monday, but the city of Gaithersburg owns the park, so Mayor Jud Ashman and the City Council would have to give final approval for the school construction.
The $26 million project, if approved, is expected to be completed in September 2022, and take over about 9 acres of the 28-acre park.
Some community members have spoken out in opposition to the project because of its impact on the park.
At a school board meeting on Monday, MCPS staff members assured the board and public 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.
An alternate location at nearby Victory Farm Park was not feasible due to its topography, according to Seth Adams, director of the MCPS Department of Facilities Management.
In a wooded area with varying ground elevations, the site could not accommodate parking or playgrounds and would cost “significantly more” to develop than the Kelley Park site, Adams said.
“It’s not necessarily what we would consider a feasible site,” Adams said. “It’s not one I think we could recommend at this point.”
Board Vice President Pat O’Neill said a boundary study to determine attendance should include the area middle schools, as well. She said she has heard frustration from community members because some neighborhoods adjacent to Gaithersburg Middle School can’t attend the school due to current boundaries.
The study is scheduled to be completed 18 months before the school opens.
“I think the Gaithersburg cluster will breathe a sigh of relief when this is all done,” O’Neill said. “It’s been a long conversation, but I think (MCPS staff members) have done a good job of limiting the footprint and impact of the building.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com