Construction of a new South Lake Elementary School is expected to be completed in 2023, a year earlier than projected as complaints about the current building stack up from community advocates and staff members.
The Gaithersburg elementary school is one of the county’s largest, with an enrollment of about 900 students. For more than five years, community members have pleaded with MCPS and county government officials to intervene and improve its “unacceptable conditions.”
On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to reverse a decision it made earlier this year to delay a major construction project at the school.
The project includes tearing down the existing school, built in 1972, and replacing it with a new building.
The problems in the South Lake building now — including persistent rodent infestations, air quality and HVAC malfunctions, lack of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance — are insurmountable, MCPS Director of Facilities Management Seth Adams said on Tuesday.
Adams said MCPS has spent several years trying to fix the air-quality problems and has filled nearly 30 service requests related to rodent infestations.
A report by WTOP in July about the condition of the school included a video clip of a rodent running through a classroom after hours.
In May, as the county grappled with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the Montgomery County Council voted to delay several building projects, including South Lake. The council prioritized keeping projects that will increase capacity at high school buildings.
The action taken delayed the completion of the project one year, to 2024. Tuesday’s reversal vote sends a request to county government officials to adjust MCPS’ six-year construction funding plan to finish the project in 2023, as originally proposed.
“The South Lake community has waited years and years to be prioritized by the school system, the board and the county council,” school board member Brenda Wolff said on Tuesday. “They’ve seen new schools go up in other communities … and they’ve waited their turn. The technicalities of how you fit into a (capital budget) mean little to a community that believes their voices are never being heard. I want them to know we hear them.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com