The long fight over the new Montgomery County middle school set for a Kensington park appeared finished when the Montgomery County Board of Education approved a construction contract for the project in August.
But residents near the site who think the school will harm a nearby creek and jeopardize the safety of students who walk to class say they still have an opportunity to stop it.
With Montgomery County Public Schools expecting to start construction soon at the Rock Creek Hills Local Park, the Montgomery County Council is considering transferring an extra $1.8 million toward the $52.3 million project to build shell space for a future 12-classroom addition.
That prospect has some nearby residents—many already angry about placing the yet-to-be-named 922-student middle school on the hilly 13-acre site—renewing efforts to stop the project.
“Sure, it would be wonderful to not have to worry about how my kids get to school for three years of my life,” said Rick Bond, a resident who lives near the school site and has two kids who would attend the school if it’s completed as scheduled in August 2017. “But when I think about the impact for the rest of my life, and everybody else’s life, and if you think about a 25-plus-year life cycle of a school, the impact is significant.”
Neighbors against the school testified against the $1.8 million transfer at a public hearing last week. The council’s Education Committee is expected to recommend approval of the transfer at its meeting Monday.
Jim Chambers, another neighbor against the school, asked the Maryland Department of the Environment not to approve construction until a detailed environmental impact study was done to see how building might affect the Silver Creek that runs along the western edge of the site and underneath Saul Road near its intersection with Kensington Parkway.
MCPS has already agreed with the Montgomery County Planning Board to replace trees lost due to construction of the school by providing money to plant new ones in other parts of the county.
MCPS officials have labeled those against the school as a small, but vocal group and have pointed to the support of local PTA parents, many who want the new middle school to help ease overcrowding.
Rafe Peterson, a PTA representative for Rosemary Hills Elementary School, criticized neighbors arguing against the design before the Board of Education awarded the construction contract in August.
“The voices of the NIMBY’s should not [drown] out the thousands of parents that support this school,” Peterson wrote in an email to board members. “There is no deal that can be cut that would make them happy and no way to appease them other than to move to another location. In any event, when you actually count their numbers they are a small minority. Our Cluster overwhelmingly supports this school.”
Susie Cooper, one of those opposed to the school, said the four-level building with an entrance drive lined with retaining walls would be built on one of the smallest middle school sites in the county and without the space that many other schools enjoy.
Cooper and others opposed to the project say MCPS should locate the school at North Chevy Chase Local Park, a roughly 30-acre park on Jones Bridge Road that was considered but rejected during the selection process.
Council member Marc Elrich wrote Board of Education members that the North Chevy Chase site should be reconsidered in a last-minute effort to stave off the awarding of the contract in August.
“I have learned too much to where I can’t not do anything. I pay for this school. My kids would go to this school,” Cooper said. “I want a quality school. I want what MCPS has already given us in other places.”
MCPS began its first site selection process for the school, known as Bethesda-Chevy Chase Middle School #2, in 2010. The school system was seeking a second middle school in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School cluster to ease anticipated future overcrowding at the middle school level and allow sixth graders now at local elementary schools to transition to the middle school level, as is traditional.
The original decision to locate the school on a portion of Lyttonsville Local Park in Silver Spring was rejected by many in that community and by the Montgomery County Planning Board, which controls the park.
MCPS began a second site selection process with a 47-member selection committee that identified Rock Creek Hills Local Park, formerly home to a MCPS school, on Saul Road, as the best site.
Before the Planning Board reluctantly turned the park site back over to MCPS, the Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Associations sued MCPS, alleging that it shouldn’t be allowed to take back the park and build a new school.
The suit was thrown out in court.
Still, some residents persist in opposing the site.
“This site is just too small to offer and support a full school experience both during school hours and for after-hours programs,” said nearby resident Mary Maday, who spoke at the council public hearing and in front of the Board of Education in August. “The key to a decision in picking a site should be the quality experience our kids will be offered and this just is not that site.”
After Montgomery County Planning Department staff and MCPS staff resolved a number of disagreements pertaining to the design of the school earlier this year, construction should start soon, according to MCPS spokesperson Dana Tofig.
“This school has been discussed, debated, studied, and restudied perhaps more than any school in our entire district. The bottom line is that we have involved the community in the design of this school multiple times and have continued to engage neighbors and hear their concerns,” Tofig said last week. “We are ready to start construction and look forward to opening this much-needed middle school in 2017. We know it will be a great place for students to learn and will be an asset to the community.”
MCPS said it often includes shell spaces for future additions at new schools because building the shells would only get more expensive later on.
While it’s unclear how the school would accommodate the extra parking and other infrastructure needed for an additional 278 students, MCPS estimates the 12-classroom shell space will cost about $50 per square foot now.
The school system says that means realizing an overall savings of about 40 percent to 65 percent off the estimated $6 million cost to build the entire addition at a later date.