Proposed Elementary School in Gaithersburg Faces Opposition at Meeting Monday

Proposed Elementary School in Gaithersburg Faces Opposition at Meeting Monday

Residents concerned about traffic impact, access to park amenities

| Published:
Untitled design - 2019-08-13T094221.233

A sketch of the proposed Gaithersburg elementary school.

Rendering via MCPS

Some Gaithersburg residents are objecting to a proposed elementary school at a local park.

The new three-story school would use part of Kelley Park, replacing basketball and volleyball courts, baseball fields and a parking lot.

The 95,000-square-foot school could 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. A boundary study to determine which students would attend the school is scheduled to be completed 18 months before the school opens.

At a meeting on Monday to discuss the project, two Gaithersburg City Council members asked if the boundary study could be completed before a final decision about the school’s site is made. MCPS Director of Construction Seth Adams said the Board of Education could consider the proposal, but the idea behind the current timeline is to ensure MCPS uses the most current enrollment projections to make boundary decisions.

The city owns the park, so Mayor Jud Ashman and the Gaithersburg 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.

At least one Gaithersburg City Council member and several community members, however, are pushing MCPS to consider an alternate location at Victory Farm Park.

Councilman Robert Wu said he is not necessarily advocating for the Victory Farm Park site, but he wants to ensure MCPS does “what’s best for the community.”

“I want the best option here. I think the process should dictate the outcome, not the outcome dictating the process,” Wu said.

MCPS argues that Victory Farm Park is not feasible due to environmental impact standards at the city, county and state levels.

“This site truly is a site that … would truly be a significant challenge, if not unbuildable, based on environmental standards,” Adams said.

In written testimony to the City Council, residents said they worry the new school would generate too much traffic and decrease nearby home values. They also said that putting a school in a public park could hinder the public’s access to park amenities during the day.

An online petition started about a year ago has gathered 850 signatures of people who oppose using the Kelley Park site for the school.

Doreen Turczyn-Toles wrote to the council, saying MCPS enrollment projections are continuously incorrect, leading to capacity issues, even in new schools.

“Agreeing to let them build another school, regardless of location, misuses public funds by enabling their inability to reasonably forecast and failure to properly maintain current schools,” Turczyn-Toles wrote.

Gaithersburg resident George Freeland wrote in favor of the Kelley Park site, saying Gaithersburg is “desperate” for a solution to crowded schools and the school’s proximity to park space would benefit students.

“While I have only an uncertain understanding of the recently-distributed evaluation of the Victory Farm site, I believe further consideration of the Victory Farm site simply means further delay and additional costs for studies, permits, etc., on a site that appears clearly inferior to the Kelley Park site,” Gaithersburg resident George Freeland wrote to the City Council.

MCPS will refine its building design and work with Gaithersburg officials about location options for the future school, Adams said.

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

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