Council, board to look at all options for Seven Locks school

Friday, March 10, 2006

Plans for Seven Locks Elementary School are open for discussion again after county and school officials said Friday they would convene a task force to ‘‘explore all options” for the school.

County Council staff will work with school planners to consider options for the school, which the council in 2004 approved $14 million to rebuild on Kendale Road in Potomac.

On Feb. 28, Councilman Howard A. Denis (R-Dist. 1) of Chevy Chase introduced a budget amendment to rebuild the school at its current site on Seven Locks Road. Meanwhile, the council is considering a $3.3 million appropriation to cover cost increases related to construction materials for the approved Kendale site.

‘‘Essentially we are forming a joint task team of a half dozen people to look at options, the council’s concerns and Mr. Denis’s resolution on Seven Locks,” school board President Charles Haughey said. ‘‘I don’t believe anything needs to be off the table at this point.”

The task force is expected to make a recommendation to the Education Committee on March 23.

A vote on Monday by the Potomac Elementary School PTA to support rebuilding Seven Locks on its current site factored into the decision to re-evaluate all options, both Haughey and County Council President George L. Leventhal said.

‘‘That was huge,” said Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park.

The Potomac Elementary School PTA supported the option although it would mean delaying relief to their school, which is about 80 students over capacity and would receive some relief with the opening of Seven Locks on Kendale in 2007. Denis’s proposal would mean a new school would open on Seven Locks Road in September 2008.

‘‘The change in position of the board leaders and the willingness of the council to look at other options was really sparked by the change in the position of the Potomac Elementary School community,” Leventhal said.

Earlier coverage

Seven Locks decision moves to the council

Dagley to defend Seven Locks audit

Report: Seven Locks options were limited

The task force will ‘‘explore all options,” Leventhal said.

The task force will comprise council staff assigned to construction issues. Chief Operating Officer Larry A. Bowers, facilities director Richard G. Hawes and former planning director Joseph J. Lavorgna, who is still employed as a consultant, will represent the school system.

Leventhal also said that while he did not want to prejudge the task force’s recommendations, it was ‘‘my clear read that votes were not available on the council for the Kendale site.”

That led Leventhal to approach Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, members of the board and Education Committee Chairman Michael L.Subin (D-At large) of Gaithersburg to pursue other options.

The board had taken a hard stance on building a replacement school on Kendale Road in Potomac.

On March 2, school board Vice President Sharon W. Cox (At large) of Germantown read a statement to the council’s Education and Management and Fiscal Policy committees, saying ‘‘The Seven Locks replacement facility at Kendale best meets the needs of the students.”

The Kendale site provided a modern facility, relieved overcrowding at Potomac Elementary, avoided moving Seven Locks students to a holding facility and did not push completion of the Seven Locks project further back. It also moved the school from a site that the school system says has traffic congestion and is unsafe for students.

‘‘It was the right decision when it was made, and it is the right decision now,” Cox said.

On Friday, Haughey focused on overcrowding.

‘‘We’re concerned about overcrowding and providing adequate facilities for all kids,” said Haughey (At large) of Rockville. ‘‘Anything that will relieve those circumstances anywhere in the cluster is, I believe, worth looking at.”

The Potomac Elementary PTA’s stance was a factor, he said.

‘‘A lot of what we heard was from the Potomac Elementary School PTA saying they supported the [Kendale site] option on the table. In the last week or so they have withdrawn support from that and suggested we take another look ...,” Haughey said. ‘‘When there is a profound climate change as there has been suddenly on that site, I suspect the council wants to look at it differently. And the council is our funding body and we want to respond to council concerns.”