2020 | Schools

School board approves new boundary study for Bethesda-area elementary schools

Board finalizes capital improvement plan, sends to County Council for review

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The Montgomery County Board of Education on Thursday finalized several changes to its six-year construction plan request, including a new boundary study for three Bethesda-area elementary schools.

The changes add roughly $3.7 million to the $1.8 billion capital improvement plan (CIP).

“While the additional expenditures might seem relatively small … it provides funding for new capital projects, accelerates the completion dates of previously approved projects and provides funding for vital countywide projects that are so critical to addressing our aging infrastructure,” Superintendent Jack Smith said.

Many of the proposed CIP amendments were recommended in an “attempt to maximize resources,” MCPS Associate Superintendent of Operations Essie McGuire said during a meeting last month.

An example is a proposal to ditch a boundary study for two elementary schools in the Bethesda area and start a new one that includes a third school.

Last year, MCPS began a boundary study to explore ways to relieve crowding at Somerset Elementary School in Chevy Chase.

MCPS planned to construct a classroom addition at nearby Westbrook Elementary School in Bethesda and conduct a boundary study to move some students from Somerset to Westbrook.

But as the pandemic strains local and state budgets, Smith presented a new proposal.

The proposal, approved Thursday, includes axing a proposed $16.7 million addition at Bethesda Elementary School. MCPS would continue with the $4.4 million addition at Westbrook and conduct a boundary study to determine how to reassign students from Bethesda and Somerset to Westbrook.

The school board also approved a delay to finishing a boundary study for a new elementary school in Gaithersburg.

In April, the school district began a routine boundary study after authorizing the construction of a new elementary school in the city, intended to relieve crowding at several schools.

The new school will sit on a 6-acre section of Kelley Park, on Victory Farm Drive, and have space for about 740 students.

The $26 million project is expected to be completed in September 2022.

Originally, a report detailing possible redistricting options was scheduled to be released in early January, with a recommendation from Smith soon after. The school board was expected to take final action in March.

But, because MCPS’ enrollment has dipped by more than 3,600 students this year as it continues with virtual learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, the school board voted to postpone final action until more enrollment data are available next year. School district officials said it will be helpful to know whether the students will return when face-to-face instruction resumes.

The new timeline still includes releasing the initial report in January, but delaying Smith’s recommended changes until October.

Final action from the school board was postponed until November 2021.

CIP amendments approved Thursday were:

• In alignment with the recommendation to restart and expand the boundary study for elementary schools in Bethesda, the school board eliminated the $16.7 million addition at Bethesda Elementary School and reallocated $4.4 million for the addition at Westbrook Elementary School. The Westbrook addition is scheduled to be completed in September 2023.

• Reduced the scope of a building project at Silver Spring International Middle School, and reallocated $16 million from the project to an addition at Highland View Elementary School. The completion date will be September 2024 for the Silver Spring International project and 2025 for Highland View.

• To accommodate increasing enrollment at JoAnn Leleck Elementary School, the school board previously approved addition projects at Cresthaven and Roscoe Nix elementary schools. But the cost of the two projects is about the same cost as building a new elementary school, MCPS staff members said. So, the school board ditched the addition projects to instead build a new elementary school. The new school will accommodate third through fifth grade, with a completion date of September 2025. A site selection process will begin in the spring of 2021.

• To address ballooning enrollment at William Tyler Page Elementary School, the school board approved accelerating an addition project, moving its completion date from September 2025 to September 2023. Page’s enrollment is expected to be about 300 more than the school was built to hold by the last year of the CIP.

• Moved up the completion of “major” projects for three schools: South Lake, Stonegate and Woodlin elementary schools. All three will be completed in September 2023.

• Added $5 million for HVAC improvements, $3.2 million for “planned life cycle asset replacement projects” and $1 million for roof replacement projects in Fiscal Year 2022.

• Scheduled the Westbrook, Somerset and Bethesda elementary schools boundary study to be completed in November 2021.

• To align with the completion of an addition at DuFief Elementary School, intended to relieve crowding at Rachel Carson Elementary School, a boundary study was approved for the two schools, to begin in the spring of 2022. The school board will take final action in November 2022.

• To align with the completion of a new elementary school in Clarksburg, a boundary study will begin in the spring of 2022. The school board will take final action in November 2022.
The Montgomery County Council will review the school board’s CIP request, with a final vote expected in May.

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