Seeks help from the state to address space shortages
The Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously approved amendments to the district’s six-year Capital Improvements Program (CIP) on Monday, adding $223.3 million to help Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) manage its current and future enrollment growth.
The additional funds will allow 36 projects to be completed sooner than currently approved, adding thousands of much-needed classroom seats throughout the county. The Board’s request also includes several other projects aimed at alleviating space shortages and making the best use of available space.
“Our space shortage is an urgent matter for our students, staff, parents, and community members. We need to add space as quickly as possible not only to serve our current students, but to serve those we know are coming in the near future,” said Phil Kauffman, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education. “Montgomery County Public Schools is Maryland’s largest, fastest growing district and we simply need to more help from the state to meet our district’s construction needs.”
Enrollment in MCPS this school year is 153,852 students, an increase of nearly 2,600 from last school year and an increase of 16,107 students since 2007. Much of that growth has been in the early grades, leading to significant space deficits in elementary schools across the district. MCPS is currently using 404 relocatable classrooms, with almost 90 percent located at elementary schools.
The district’s growth is expected to continue in the years to come, with enrollment projected to top 165,000 students by 2020-2021, an increase of more than 11,000 students from this year. This will include dramatic growth in secondary schools as the current enrollment bubble in elementary grades progresses into middle and high schools.
MCPS sought additional help from the state for school construction during the 2014 legislative session, but the funds were not approved. After the proposal fell through, the Montgomery County Council approved a $1.53 billion CIP for fiscal years (FY) 2015-2020, which was $214 million less than requested by the Board of Education. The Board’s requested amendments approved Monday would increase the six-year CIP to $1.75 billion.
“We deeply appreciate the partnership of our local elected officials and the significant investment our citizens make to meet the space needs of our students,” said Patricia O’Neill, vice president of the Board. “It is my hope that our state leaders will now step up to help provide our students with the learning spaces they need and deserve.”
Superintendent Joshua P. Starr submitted his recommended CIP amendments to the Board on October 28. The Board held a work session and two public hearings on Dr. Starr’s recommendation before taking final action on Monday. The Board added $2.5 million to Dr. Starr’s recommendation for additional Planned Life-cycle Asset Replacement (PLAR) projects during FY 2016. During the public hearings, the Board heard from school communities where capital projects had been delayed that there were some urgent facility needs. These additional funds would go toward meeting those interim needs while the schools await the start of the capital projects.
The Board’s request also funds:
· The relocation of the district’s Alternative Education Programs from the Blair Ewing Center on Avery Road to another site in Rockville, with a building that would be improved and expanded;
· Consideration of locating Rock Terrace School on the same site as Tilden Middle School as a part of a revitalization/expansion project at Tilden; and
· Planning for a new bus depot that is necessary because of the county’s development around the Shady Grove Metro Station.
The requested CIP amendments will be submitted to the Montgomery County Executive and the Montgomery County Council for consideration. The County Executive is expected to release his recommended CIP amendments for the county—including MCPS—on or about January 15. The County Council will approve final CIP amendments in May.
If the Board’s requested CIP amendments are approved, most of the additional revenue would be used to accelerate the timeline for two new schools, 14 classroom additions, and 20 school revitalization/expansion projects. Most of these projects were delayed by one year when additional state funding was not approved.
The Board also approved $100,000 for a comprehensive capacity study of high schools in the Downcounty Consortium. The study will evaluate Montgomery Blair, Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, and Northwood high schools to determine possible solutions to anticipated space shortages. A revitalization/expansion project at Wheaton High School is already under way and in October the Board approved a change to the plan that would make it easier to expand the school in the future.
The Board also approved a feasibility study to explore ways to relieve overutilization at Rachel Carson Elementary School. Currently, Rachel Carson is more than 300 students over capacity and enrollment is expected to continue to grow. Previous studies have indicated that the school is not a viable location for an expansion project. The Board is requesting that a feasibility study explore the construction of additions to Jones Lane, Fields Road and/or DuFief elementary schools and how that additional space could alleviate the overutilization at Rachel Carson. The Board also agreed that the feasibility study should include the possibility of constructing a new school in the area.
Clarksburg and Northwest high schools are expected to be 500 and 300 students over capacity, respectively, by 2020. The Board’s requested CIP amendments would increase the capacity of Seneca Valley High School to 2,400 students under an already-approved revitalization/expansion project. Some of that extra space would be used to alleviate crowding at Clarksburg and Northwest high schools.
The Board’s request also changes a planned addition at Ashburton Elementary School, in Bethesda, so it can accommodate 881 students, instead of 767 as originally planned. The request also funds a feasibility study for a classroom addition and facility improvements at Thomas W. Pyle Middle School instead of the one auxiliary gymnasium that was approved as part of the current CIP.
The Board’s request also includes a boundary study, to be conducted in spring 2015, to determine a recommended attendance zone for the new Clarksburg/Damascus middle school. This new school will relieve overutilization at Rocky Hill and Neelsville middle schools.
Alternative Education Programs
The approved CIP already includes $16.6 million for facility improvements to the Blair G. Ewing Center, which currently houses the district’s Alternative Education Programs. The district is in the process of redesigning its Alternative Education Program to better serve students who have not been successful in traditional school environments.
The Ewing center, constructed in the early 1970s, does not have proper building and site configurations to support the redesigned program for middle and high school students. The $16.6 million approved in the CIP will upgrade the building systems—such as HVAC, electrical, and plumbing—but will not be adequate to reconfigure or revitalize the Ewing Center.
The Board’s request would relocate the Alternative Education Programs from its current location to a facility on Bestor Drive in Rockville, known as the English Manor site. The configuration of this building—a former school—is more suited to the needs of the redesigned Alternative Education Program and the $16.6 million can be used for the revitalization of the existing facility.
A feasibility study would be conducted during the 2014–2015 school year in order to determine the scope of the improvements and expansion at English Manor. Planning for the relocation of Blair G. Ewing Center to the English Manor would begin in FY 2016 with a scheduled completion date of August 2017.
Rock Terrace School and Tilden Middle School
The CIP request also includes a roundtable discussion group to consider the possibility of collocating Rock Terrace School with Tilden Middle School, which is currently scheduled for a revitalization/expansion project.
The current Rock Terrace School, which serves special education students ages 12-21, is housed in an older, stand-alone building in Rockville. The state of Maryland strongly discourages stand-alone special education centers and may not fund improvements for them.
Tilden Middle School was identified as a possible collocation site due to its scheduled revitalization/ expansion project, its central location in the Walter Johnson Cluster, and a site size that can accommodate both schools.
The roundtable discussion group will include parents and staff from Rock Terrace School and Tilden Middle School, as well as MCPS staff from the departments that oversee school improvement, special education, and school construction. The roundtable discussion group will begin its work in December and will submit a report to the superintendent. Dr. Starr is expected to bring a recommendation to the Board by the spring.
Montgomery County’s Smart Growth Initiative will be transforming the area near the Shady Grove Metro Station from an industrial area into a mixed-use community, with a residential focus. This will require the relocation of the MCPS Shady Grove Bus Depot on Crabbs Branch Way in Rockville, which houses over 400 school buses, as well as maintenance and repair facilities. MCPS will have to vacate the depot by January 2017 and, so far, the county has not been able to find a new location for the buses.
With the deadline fast approaching, MCPS has been considering various options for the relocation of the depot. The most viable option at this time is to locate the new depot at the Blair G. Ewing Center, which sits on a 22.5-acre site and would accommodate most of the needs and functions of the depot.
The Board’s CIP request includes $32 million for the redevelopment of the Ewing site as a bus depot, with a scheduled completion date of January 2019.