The Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park Citizens’ Association unanimously rejected the county school board’s proposal to build a school in their neighborhood park, which would render it unavailable to locals during school hours.
About 35 people showed up to express their distaste for the idea, which is called “co-locating,” at a Nov. 20 meeting at Garrett Park Elementary School. There are 45 co-located schools and parks in the county.
“You’re not looking to co-locate the park, you’re looking to take the park,” said Terry McCoy to Bruce Crispell, director of the school system’s Division of Long-range Planning, and Nkosi Yearwood of the planning department, echoing a frustration many in the audience expressed.
The school had been slated to be built as part of the White Flint Mall redevelopment and is included in the White Flint Sector Plan. It was to be built on the south side of the White Flint Mall property, currently a parking lot. But last year, the developer of the mall, Lerner Enterprises, reduced the size of the school site to 3.6 acres.
The site was shrunk to accommodate a new road alignment for an unnamed tenant, Yearwood said.
In response, Montgomery County Public Schools and its board of education decided the White Flint Neighborhood Park would be a better site, with both the community and the school’s students using part of the park as playing fields, Crispell said.
Not so easy to do, said Brooke Farquhar, supervisor of park and trail planning of the Montgomery County Department of Parks.
“None of the park is flat,” Farquhar told the group. That makes construction tough and traditional playing fields nearly impossible. Much of the park is wooded and serves as a buffer between a residential neighborhood and the mall.
Crispell said the school board was willing to compromise — that both sites were less than ideal, but at least building inside the park would mean future students would have some outdoor space, as opposed to the mall site, where they would not. He admitted some trees would have to be felled, but urged the audience to think of future students. The school would not be built for at least 10 years, he said.
Crispell told the group that the school board was interested in acquiring as much land as possible and pocketing it for future use and future growth. With 9,800 new housing units being built in the White Flint area, it’s only a matter of time until a new school is needed, he said.
Del. Al Carr, (D-Dist.18) who lives in Kensington, described the school board as “desperate to grab a site.”
He argued that the county should “put a school where its best suited and not just because someone happens to be developing there.”
If the school board is successful, locals argued, the neighborhood would essentially lose one of the last green spaces in an ever-urbanizing environment. They did not buy the idea that the co-location or sharing would satisfy the neighborhood’s need for a park, since it would be off-limits during school hours.
“These students won’t have a park either,” said Mike Dundon. “They’ll have an after-dark piece of ground. We’ll all be out there with our flashlights.”
The fate of the park, and the future of the yet-to-be-built school, will depend largely on how the county planning board votes, Crispell said.
“If the planning board does not support our request, we’ll go back to White Flint south,” he said. The planning board is expected to look at the issue early next year.
The Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park Citizen’s Association unanimously agreed on their own position, which will be written in a letter to be sent to the planning board and consists of three parts: it opposes the school board’s suggestion of co-locating the new school at White Flint Neighborhood Park; it supports the original White Flint Sector plan, which calls for an expansion of the park; and it encourages the county to further investigate other sites for the new school.