2021 | Schools

Planning Department again opposes design of an MCPS building project

District wants parking at front of building; planners have repeatedly rejected idea

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For the second time in three months, Montgomery County planners have recommended rejecting a school district construction project because it places parking lots and bus loops at the front of the building, “separating the building from the community.”

For years, planners and school district officials have been at odds over the design of new schools. The Planning Department staff advocates for more pedestrian-friendly layouts. The district argues that that approach is not feasible on some sites.

Next week, the Planning Board will meet and review the design for a new Stonegate Elementary School in Silver Spring.

Planning Department staff members in charge of reviewing the plan have recommended denial. They again are objecting to a design that places parking lots, bus loops and student drop-off areas prominently at the front of the building, which they say prioritizes vehicle traffic and creates an unwelcoming environment for pedestrians. It also separates the building from the community, planners say.

“Parking should never be the dominant feature of our public/civic schools,” a memo to the Planning Board says. “… The current design eliminates any sense of community building and community framing.”

A recommendation for denial from the Planning Board is not legally binding. The school district could move forward with the project as is.

In June, the Planning Board objected to the design of a new elementary school in Clarksburg for the same reason. The board said MCPS again disregarded its guidance that school buildings be positioned closer to a road, with parking lots, athletic fields and playgrounds on the sides or tucked behind.

“The problem is that MCPS continues to bring proposed school buildings to us that repeatedly do the same thing over and over again, which we keep telling them not to do,” Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson said at the time. “What we keep asking to do is bring the building to the street and don’t put parking in front of the building, but for some reason, we keep getting these projects and they have the same problem.”

He continued: “We have beat our head against the wall to try to get you to move buildings to the street. That’s what we’re looking for. Move the buildings to the street.”

The school board is expected to discuss the Planning Board’s comments during a meeting on Thursday, according to the agenda.

During the meeting with the Planning Board in June, MCPS Director of Facilities Management Seth Adams said he feels “strongly” that MCPS “is going to be pushing and bringing very innovative designs to the Planning Board, but this one has been in a state of review and discussion and some levels of approval for 15 years” and the changes requested by planners were “very much a stark change.”

The new Stonegate Elementary School would enroll about 740 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. It is planned to open in September 2023.

MCPS did not respond to a request to meet with planners to discuss concerns about the site design, according to Planning Board documents.

Instead, in an unrelated response to planners, the district wrote that it “will plan to address this issue at the Planning Board meeting.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com