Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Richard Montgomery opens its doors

New school building greets students and staff Jan. 3

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Brian Lewis⁄The Gazette
Richard Montgomery High School Principal Moreno E. Carrasco walks down the hallway dubbed ‘‘Main Street” with social studies teacher Jill Selman on the opening day of the new school building.
Students, teachers and parents are saying the new Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville is well worth the wait.

The new school, which opened to students on Jan. 3, boasts a lobby that staff has deemed ‘‘Main Street,” a large gymnasium painted in the school’s colors of black and gold, and interactive computerized whiteboards in lieu of chalkboards.

It also features a television studio, a radio station and a high-tech security system.

School officials said it all came with a price tag of $86.7 million.

‘‘I’m really proud to be the principal of this school,” Moreno E. Carrasco said a day before students arrived. ‘‘We just took a lot of pleasure in watching it every step of the way.”

The building was constructed on the campus of the old Richard Montgomery facility at Fleet Street and Richard Montgomery Drive.

The school community was anxiously awaiting the completion of the facility, which has been under construction since 2005. It had been scheduled to open at the beginning of the school year in August, but construction issues caused a delay.

Richard Montgomery PTSA President Kate Savage, who took a tour of the new building with Carrasco and members of the media on Jan. 2, said she is thrilled that everything has come to fruition.

‘‘When you walk into the building, there’s this large amount of light and openness of the building that you don’t notice from the outside, but the kids are going to just be amazed compared to the cramped quarters of the old RM,” she said. ‘‘We’re just really excited that it’s finally happening after all these years. Our cluster’s really fortunate to have both RM and College Gardens [Elementary School] opening.”

College Gardens Elementary School, just a few miles to the north of Richard Montgomery, also reopened after an 18-month renovation period.

Savage said the new building is a large improvement over the old facility, which had been open since 1942. She added that she thinks students will be particularly happy the first time it rains and the school’s roof does not leak on them or they do not have to walk outside in bad weather to get to class.

Opening day

The school was a mixture of nervousness and excitement last Thursday morning as teachers led groups of students on tours of the building.

Students had gotten a sneak peek of the new building before winter break via a virtual video tour, but had not stepped foot in the school until that morning.

‘‘I think it’s really nice and huge and it’s really what we needed to boost our enthusiasm about learning here,” said Rianne Webb, a 17-year-old senior who lives in Germantown, as her homeroom class began its tour. ‘‘Just the fact that people can walk down the hallways together without squeezing through, and I think it’ll help us get to class quicker and get to what we’re supposed to be doing here — learning.”

But some students said they would miss elements of the original building.

‘‘It’s exciting, but it’s a little like a hospital [because] it’s so sanitary and clean,” Sandhya Devaraj, a 17-year-old senior who lives in Rockville, said as she peered out onto the main lobby from a floor above. ‘‘There’s not even any posters on the walls — the old RM was really lived in.”

The old Richard Montgomery is still visible from the new building’s windows along with large mounds of dirt, which will someday be the school’s athletic fields and football stadium. The new building, which sits on 25.7 acres, was constructed on what used to be the football field.

Kate Harrison, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County Public Schools, said demolition of the original building is scheduled for later this month or early February to make way for the athletic fields, which are expected to be completed within six months.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Board of Education approved an item that could make Richard Montgomery the first public school in the county to have artificial turf in its football stadium, provided funding comes through.

According to a memo submitted by Superintendent Jerry D. Weast to the school board, the cost of installing an artificial turf field is approximately $900,000 per field, with approximately 10 years of life expectancy.

Richard Montgomery is looking into creating partnerships with other sports groups to help fund the turf.

The former Park Street Elementary School also used to occupy the site, Savage said. That structure was converted into a county government office building a number of years ago, but demolished to make way for the new Richard Montgomery.

The ‘‘Main Street” area of the new school, complete with lighting fixtures that look like street lamps, features a red brick façade with windows and a functional double door. Savage said it pays tribute to historic Park Street and the room inside will serve as an art gallery for students.