Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

White Flint could get new school

Need for new elementary is likely a decade away

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Preliminary discussions are underway between the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission and Montgomery County Public Schools about the possible necessity of a new elementary school as a result of the envisioned new housing developments in the evolving White Flint Sector Plan.

The plan, which will update guidelines for the urbanization of the area surrounding the White Flint Metro Station, calls for more mixed-use development including the addition of mid- and high-rise housing developments. A recent analysis of the 2005 Montgomery County Census Update Survey, as well as the projected number of new housing units, predicted the new developments will bring about 320 new elementary students to the area, according to Bruce Crispell, director of Long-Range Planning for MCPS.

Crispell said elementary schools are "at capacity or actually slightly over" in the Walter Johnson Sector of MCPS, which serves the area covered by the White Flint Sector Plan. Middle and high schools in the sector are projected to be able to adequately absorb the growth for the time being.

The new elementary school is not imminent, Crispell said, but is 10 to 12 years out, depending on how quickly development and population growth align with the vision of the updated sector plan.

"People may be thinking this is a little more imminent, that the effect on schools is imminent, but the planning commission is telling us this is something we're looking at in a 20-year span," Crispell said. "We don't expect that much impact on schools for the next six to 10 years."

However, Park and Planning and MCPS are collaborating to identify a site that could be acquired for the elementary school so it's ready when the time comes to build, Crispell said.

Elementary schools are generally built on about 12 acres, but because White Flint is a compact area with a high land value, Crispell said MCPS is "trying to remain flexible" on the school location. Smaller sites adjacent to park land that could be used for recess and gym classes are being considered.

Two sites—one near White Flint Mall adjacent to Garrett Park Estates Park, and one adjacent to MAC/Wall Park—fit that bill and appeared with asterisks in the last presentation of MCNPPC's plan in July. But Janice Turpin, the real estate team management leader for MCPS, said nothing has been decided conclusively about any site.

"We look at many factors, topography, access, cost, whether it's environmentally feasible. There are a whole host of considerations," Turpin said. "This is so preliminary, we would not close the door on any options."

The redevelopment guidelines for White Flint Sector Plan will include a required amount of public use space to be set aside by developers, which could also potentially be allocated to a site for a school. Turpin said such a mechanism is something MCPS is encouraging Park and Planning to consider.

On Aug. 28 the planning commission will meet with the White Flint Advisory Group to present a preliminary plan and listen to input. Any adjustments will be made by Sept. 11, when the final preliminary draft for the White Flint Sector Plan will be presented to the Planning Board. A public hearing is planned for sometime in the fall, and a final draft is slated to be completed and presented to the County Council and County Executive for approval this winter.

The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission will present its preliminary recommendations and address questions surrounding the White Flint Sector Plan at an Advisory Board Meeting to be held at 7:30p.m., Aug. 28 at the Montgomery County Regional Offices Auditorium, 8787 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring.