The future Woodward High School could be the first within the Montgomery County Public Schools system to not have an athletic stadium, according to conceptual plans shared Monday.
Woodward, currently a holding facility for Tilden Middle School, is slated to be a holding facility for Northwood High School students in 2023.
It is expected to undergo extensive renovations in coming years, first to accommodate Northwood, then to reopen as a high school for about 2,700 students.
MCPS staff shared early plans for construction at Monday’s Board of Education meeting, including plans for flexible classroom space that could double as gathering and performing arts areas, but much of the discussion was the future of athletics at the school.
The property’s uneven topography presents unique challenges, MCPS staff said. Although the school’s total property includes about 27 acres, the total “usable acreage” is about 16 acres.
If MCPS were to include a traditional athletic stadium at Woodward, along with baseball and softball fields, the school would lose all of its available parking spaces and be forced to build a parking garage, estimated to cost $50 million.
“Can you put a stadium in? Absolutely you can put a stadium in,” MCPS Director Construction Seth Adams said. “It is a reality of what we’re looking at now that anything we do that’s going to broaden this building is going to cost considerable dollars and a stadium is one of those.”
No other Montgomery County school has a multilevel parking garage, Adams said. The MCPS staff will continue talking to the county parks and planning staff to determine if the school could use an adjacent park for extracurricular activities.
Board member Brenda Wolff said she doesn’t think building a parking garage is feasible, especially if there is a stadium at a nearby school, like Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School or Walter Johnson High School.
“We’re going to have to start thinking differently about how we build schools and … this could be the start of something new,” Wolff said. “I appreciate the concerns … but I wonder about the possibility of such an investment when we have so many other needs.”
The initial construction concepts for Woodward before Northwood students move in do not include a stadium, but Adams cautioned that the current design is preliminary and could change.
In March, Superintendent Jack Smith announced he was forming a committee to explore the possibility of Woodward housing an arts magnet program to complement the school system’s middle school arts magnet program at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School. There are currently no regional high school performing arts magnet programs.
Former Strathmore CEO Eliot Pfanstiehl is leading the exploratory committee.
Walter Johnson High School officials argue that the MCPS staff is prioritizing the arts program over alleviating overcrowding. The Woodward reopening project was initially proposed to help ease crowding at Walter Johnson, which is slated to be more than 700 students over capacity by 2024.
“Building the facility as a traditional high school with all the school characteristics of a traditional high school, including an athletic stadium, should be the priority in the design phase,” Walter Johnson Cluster Coordinator Nermine Demopoulos said. “Prioritizing an arts program at the expense of providing a traditional high school experience makes it unlikely that Woodward will successfully relieve overcrowding at [Walter Johnson] and the [Downcounty Consortium].”
MCPS staff is expected to present more solidified plans to the school board in October.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org