When Burtonsville resident Mark Pharaoh sent his 10-year-old son, Mark, to school last year, he made sure to pack him a hearty snack, concerned he might not make it until lunch.
Mark — and the rest of the third-grade class — ate their lunch toward the end of the day, which for elementary schools is close to 3 p.m. Because Burtonsville Elementary School’s cafeteria is unable to accommodate the 688 students enrolled, the school is forced to have six lunch periods, Pharaoh said.
“You give a kid breakfast in the morning and they’re expected to each lunch an hour later. That’s just crazy,” Pharaoh, the PTA president, said of the early lunch periods.
But the cafeteria issue at Burtonsville, which is for kindergarten through grade 5, underscores a much larger space issue in the 71,000-square-foot school built to accommodate a little more than 450 students. Though the school just received two additional portables, adding to the four already in place, Principal Kimberly Kimber said the school is looking to make an addition, either to the front or to the side by the ball fields.
The addition may include six regular classrooms, three kindergarten classrooms, one multipurpose room and a music suite, said James Song, director for Montgomery County Public School’s Department of Facilities Management. He said the addition may also include a cafeteria expansion to accommodate an additional 100 students and four more classrooms.
Dave Sweet of Burtonsville said he has lived in the area since 1992. His son, E.J. Sweet, 10, is in the fifth grade and has class in one of the portables at the school. He said he understands why the portables are in place for the overcrowding that has happened in the last few years, but worries about his son’s safety.
“In an ideal world, I don’t like my child being in a portable. It’s outside of the school. It doesn’t have the same feel and the same security,” he said.
Some parents of Arcola Elementary School in Wheaton voiced similar concerns at a meeting in July when the school planned to add three portable classrooms, The Gazette previously reported. Sweet — along with parents at the July meeting — is unhappy with his child traveling outside to use the restroom, and being separated from the rest of the school community.
Sweet said he is fully in support of an addition because he sees a “huge need” in the community moving forward to ensure the school’s capacity can accommodate the enrollment and proper class sizes.
“People are coming to this area to live,” he said. “It’s only going to get bigger in the next 10 years.”
The school, which was built in 1952 to accommodate about 450 students, has experienced a large growth over the last few years, Kimber confirmed. The addition, she said, is something the school and its staff are welcoming.
The growth of Burtonsville’s enrollment, Song said, is part of a larger population boom over the last four or five years across the county, which experiences a growth of a little more than 2,000 students each year. He said the process is in the preliminary stages and that no money has been set aside for the project just yet.
“Burtonsville, like many other elementary schools in this county, has shown a significant growth in enrollment,” Song said. “We’re trying to plan ahead and prepare for an addition, hoping that funding is available for that addition.”
Pharaoh said that while the projections for students at Burtonsville look like they will decrease slightly over the next few years, the addition is necessary.
“How did it even get to the point where it got this bad,” he questioned.
A community meeting will be held Dec. 18 to engage parents, teachers and the greater Burtonsville community about the potential addition.