Montgomery superintendent recommends Kensington park for new middle school -- Gazette.Net







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Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr recommended Rock Creek Hills Local Park in Kensington as the site for a new Bethesda-Chevy Chase middle school.


March 30, 2012: Superintendent's recommendation released. April 9, 2012: Mandatory Referral. A 2001 law requires the County Planning Board to review and approve the proposed location, character, grade and extent of any public building or structure prior to construction. The review will be nonbinding, except for a forest conservation plan. April 17, 2012: Montgomery County Board of Education action.

The Montgomery County Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the location April 17. The board voted in April 2011 to move forward with the Kensington park, but outcry from neighbors and parks officials prompted Starr in November to re-start the site selection process.

Rock Creek Hills, at 3701 Saul Road, is 13.3 acres with 11 buildable acres. Facilities include a playground, two soccer fields, two tennis courts, plus woodland. A 47-member site selection committee of residents, parks, school officials and others recommended it Feb. 22.

North Chevy Local Park, 31 acres located at 4105 Jones Bridge Road, was recommended as an alternate. It has approximately 30 buildable acres and is owned by the Department of Parks.

“I believe that the site selection process this time around was extremely thorough and clearly everybody did their job,” Starr said Friday. “I think our schools are community assets, and there will be grounds that can be used by the public. They will be able to continue to avail themselves of our outdoor area.”

A new school is needed to alleviate overcrowding at Westland Middle School, the cluster’s only middle school. The school system also wants to move sixth-graders to middle schools from Chevy Chase and North Chevy Chase elementary schools. MCPS has said the new school must open by 2017.

Westland has a capacity of 1,063 students, according to Starr’s recommendation. Enrollment increases and the plan to reassign sixth-graders would result in 1,600 middle school students.

“More than anything, it is about 1,600 students that need a place to go,” said Bethesda-Chevy Chase Cluster Coordinator Craig Brown, a parent of two children at Westland. “I think I would have supported any site that would have dealt with [the need for increased] capacity. Right now, Westland, without the sixth-graders, is over capacity. They are already adding portables, and [enrollment] is continuing to increase.”

He said Kensington is the only area in the cluster that has not already sacrificed land for a school.

A final report to Starr from the site selection committee also included six minority reports from committee members who disagree with the recommendation. Minority reports criticized the selection process as rushed, and said it did not allow for a complete cost and impact analysis.

Starr defended the process as thorough, transparent, and inclusive.

In April 2011, a MCPS-commissioned committee reviewed 10 sites for a new middle school, recommending Silver Spring’s Rosemary Hills/Lyttonsville Park.

After protests from those living near the park, the school board approved a feasibility study for the committee’s second-most preferred option, Rock Creek Hills.

Although the county school board decided in April 2011 that Rock Creek Hills would be the site of the new school, Starr called for re-starting the process Nov. 2 due to mounting concerns from residents, County Council members and officials with the Department of Parks who said they were left out of the decision.

“Rock Creek Hills Local Park is the one candidate site that best meets the site selection criteria and, importantly, has a reclamation provision that allows Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to have the property transferred back to MCPS for use as a public school,” according to Starr’s recommendation. “In the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Cluster, the options for land to build a new middle school are extremely limited.”

Although the park is owned by the parks department, as a former school system property the rights can be reclaimed by the school system.