Rockville groups try, unsuccessfully, to accelerate school construction -- Gazette.Net


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Rockville likely will not get a new elementary school until 2017, despite the efforts of city officials, developers, the PTA and a school board member to accelerate the project.

Montgomery County Public Schools conducted a feasibility study in 2011 for the elementary school in the Richard Montgomery cluster, which was initially scheduled to open in August 2015. During budget discussions earlier this year, however, the Montgomery County Council pushed the opening date back to August 2017, citing a lack of funds and the expense of relocating the Children’s Resource Center during construction.

Plans call for the new school to be built at 332 W. Edmonston Ave. in Rockville, where the Children’s Resource Center, a county childcare resource center, now stands. Before construction can begin on the school, the center will have to move to a new building planned for 751 Twinbrook Parkway, on the site where Broome Middle School once operated.

At the county Board of Education’s Nov. 19 meeting, then-board member Laura Berthiaume proposed amending the district’s fiscal 2014 capital improvements request to get the new school built by 2016. A group of developers, PTA representatives and city officials had found a new location for the center while its new building was under construction, which they hoped would allow construction to begin on the school sooner, rather than later.

Board members voted against the proposed amendment, saying it would seem as if they were favoring that one particular project over others waiting to be completed. Accelerating the school’s construction would also have meant moving the associated expenses up a year, beginning in 2014, rather than 2015.

Even if the board had approved the amendment, the County Council would still have to vote on whether to include it in the fiscal year 2014 budget.

Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio, who signed a letter to the board supporting the plan, said she thinks the proposed amendment was a good idea, but was not able to satisfy everyone.

“It’s totally out of our hands,” she said. “The school system has a calendar and a plan of action, and they’re very reluctant to adjust it in any way. ... I think the rigidity of staying with what they want to do took precedence.”

Marcuccio said the idea to relocate the center took shape when she initially looked into whether the city had any property available that could provide a temporary space for the Children’s Resource Center.

“In the process of talking about that here and there, it became apparent that there was some space that AvalonBay had open,” she said.

The space Marcuccio mentioned, at 12720 Twinbrook Parkway, was open precisely because of school overcrowding.

AvalonBay Communities, an Arlington-based developer, submitted plans in 2009 for a 240-unit housing development on the Twinbrook Parkway property, but those plans were halted because the elementary schools in the Richard Montgomery cluster, which serves the Twinbrook Parkway area, are over capacity.

Until the schools in the area get more space, developers are not allowed to build any more housing that might draw school-age children to the area.

“We were looking for a way to help relieve it all, if you will,” Marcuccio said.

The Richard Montgomery cluster includes one high school, one middle school and four elementary schools. All but Richard Montgomery High School have more students than capacity, according to MCPS documents. The most overcrowded, Richie Park Elementary School, has an enrollment at 135 percent of capacity, with 134 more students than spaces. The least crowded, Twinbrook Elementary School, is at 102 percent capacity. Overcrowded schools will use relocatable classrooms until the new school is built.

The new school will have room for 740 students, according to MCPS documents.

Both Rockville and Montgomery County restrict development when school overcrowding reaches a certain level. Rockville’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance limits kick in when enrollment hits 110 percent, while the county’s limit is 120 percent. City officials and work groups continue to debate whether to match Rockville’s standards to the county’s, although Marcuccio said that wouldn’t make any difference in this case because school enrollment exceeds both limits.

ewaibel@gazette.net