Nearly a third of Gaithersburg remains under a building moratorium because of overcrowding at area schools, a fact that might not change soon.
New home construction in Gaithersburg needs a waiver from the city if local school capacity exceeds 110 percent. If the capacity of a nearby school is more than 120 percent, the city gives no waiver.
Roughly 29.8 percent of the city is under moratorium, according to a July 13 report by city Planning Director Lauren Pruss. Of that, about 16 percent is eligible for waiver.
Montgomery County Public Schools administrators met with city officials Monday to discuss school construction and capacity. At the meeting, long-range planning officials with the school system noted that few additions are planned for the immediate future at Gaithersburg schools.
The issue of capacity is most acute in local elementary schools, said Bruce Crispell, the school system’s chief of the Division of Long-range Planning.
Eight local elementary schools are expected to exceed 110 percent capacity this year.
Of the six middle schools that service local students, only Robert Frost Middle School exceeds its capacity, expected to serve 1,127 students next school year with a capacity of 1,058.
Growth projections show the school population at Frost will shrink though, Crispell said, and will be under capacity by 2015.
Of the five high schools in the area, only Thomas S. Wootton and Quince Orchard high schools exceed their limits. Like Frost, though, school officials expect Wootton’s population to shrink naturally, Crispell said.
Over the next six years, the school system plans to spend $1.352 billion for schools across the county, including two new middle schools, four new elementary schools and classroom additions at 13 schools, according to school data. A more than 30-acre plot near Crown Farm in Gaithersburg is reserved for a future high school, but no plans exist to construct one there.
Servicing Gaithersburg directly, the modernization of Gaithersburg High School, currently under way, is expected to be complete by August 2014. The replacement building is set to open in August 2013.
The next closest project is the modernization of Brown Station Elementary School that will expand the school’s capacity from its current 414 to 658. Enrollment there is expected to reach 534 next school year.
Construction on the next sections of Brown Station is expected early in 2015.
City Councilman Jud Ashman asked why there were no plans to expand Rachel Carson Elementary School, one of the most overcrowded schools in the city, expecting to serve 905 students next year, with a capacity of 668.
Crispell said the school system expects much of this growth to slow significantly after 2017.
City Councilman Henry Marraffa Jr. said he doesn’t think overcrowding is hurting the performance of local schools.
“Montgomery County still has great schools,” he said. In referring to school enrollment projections, he said, “These things need to come with a grain of salt.”