Funding To Reopen Woodward High Appears in MCPS Superintendent’s New Budget Plan

Funding To Reopen Woodward High Appears in MCPS Superintendent’s New Budget Plan

Smith's plan also calls for new high school in Gaithersburg to address space crunch

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Tilden Middle School on Old Georgetown Road in the former Woodward High School building

VIA MCPS

The Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent on Monday rolled out a $1.8 billion capital plan that aims to tackle intensifying overcrowding problems by reopening Woodward High School in Rockville and building a new high school in Gaithersburg.

The proposal that Superintendent Jack Smith unveiled was shaped by the pressures of an ever-increasing student population and the need for upgrades at aging facilities, MCPS officials said. Education leaders are also facing the prospect that local aid for these improvements could shrink in the next few years, with a potential reduction in the county borrowing limit.

Smith told school board members that his six-year project lineup, which is $74 million larger than the capital plan approved two years ago, still wouldn’t solve the district’s space problems. 

“$1.81 billion does not meet all the needs, and that is kind of mind-boggling … but it’s true,” Smith said.

School board member Rebecca Smondrowski said the proposal won’t satisfy everyone but at least deals with the big picture.  

“For the first time, I feel like we’ve taken a much more comprehensive look countywide,” she said.

One major addition to this year’s capital lineup is an effort to overhaul and reopen the old Woodward High School, a move designed to relieve crowding in the Walter Johnson Cluster and in the Downcounty Consortium. The high school building on Old Georgetown Road would need significant expansion and renovation to accommodate 2,700 students, the capacity recommended by Smith.

But the construction work can’t begin for several years, when the new Tilden Middle School is finished and its students can move out of their temporary quarters at Woodward High.

Still, Smith wants to begin planning the $120.2 million project “as soon as possible” and is requesting $35.2 million for it in the fiscal 2019 capital budget. The school’s completion date is still to be determined, according to the proposal.

The superintendent also has recommended building a new high school on the Crown Farms property on Fields Road in Gaithersburg.

The new high school, which would cost an estimated $136.3 million, would address capacity problems at multiple mid-county high schools. Smith is asking for $6.3 million for the project in the fiscal 2019 capital budget.

Smith’s proposal includes 30 projects to expand, reopen or build schools to address enrollment expansion. Preliminary counts for 2017-2018 show MCPS has 161,936 students, an increase of 2,926 over the prior year, according to Smith’s report.

School officials are seeing this growth taper off at the elementary school level and shift to the middle and high school levels, said Adrienne Karamihas, the acting director of capital planning for MCPS.

Other new projects include:

  • expanding Northwood High School in Silver Spring to hold 2,700 students
  • building an addition at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring
  • adding to Parkland and Silver Spring International middle schools in Rockville and Silver Spring
  • building additions at Roscoe Nix, DuFief and Cresthaven elementary schools.

Smith also is requesting funds to install an artificial turf field at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School as part of the ongoing work there. 

The proposal also recognizes the ongoing effort to revise MCPS policies for planning school revitalizations or expansions. As a result, Smith recommended removing completion dates for certain projects that had been on the books in past capital plans and instead stating that the schedules were “to be determined.” Updated timelines will be determined later, in light of the new policies, district staff members explained.

MCPS staff and school board members acknowledged that the change will frustrate parents who were looking forward to these improvements at their schools.

“There’s going to be some shock and tremendous dismay among these communities,” board member Pat O’Neill said.

Now that Smith has introduced his $333.4 million capital budget plan for fiscal 2019 and his project plan for fiscal 2019 through 2024, the school board will hold a series of work sessions on the recommendations. Public hearings on the plans are scheduled for Nov. 6 and 8, with the school board scheduled to vote Nov. 27.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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