Superintendent Asks for $220.8 Million Increase for School Construction Projects
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr is recommending that $220.8 million be added to the district’s current six-year school construction plan in order to address significant space needs in the school system.
The proposed amendments would increase the Fiscal Year 2015-2020 Capital Improvements Program budget to $1.75 billion from the $1.53 billion plan approved by the Montgomery County Council in May.
The majority of the additional funds would restore the timeline of projects that were delayed last year when a proposal for additional construction funds from the state failed to materialize, according to a release from the school system. Starr said he is hopeful the additional state funding will come through during the next session of the Maryland State Legislature, which begins in January.
“Montgomery County continues to make significant investments in meeting the space and facility needs of MCPS and we are very appreciative of their commitment,” Starr said. “But enrollment in our school district is increasing every year and if we are going to keep up with that growth, an even bigger investment is going to be needed. It is our hope the state will step up this year and provide additional revenue to its largest and fastest-growing school district.”
Enrollment in MCPS this school year is 154,230 students, an increase of nearly 3,000 from last school year and an increase of 16,485 students since 2007, according to the school system. Much of that growth has been in the early grades, leading to significant space deficits in elementary schools across the district, according to the press release. To help schools accommodate this rapid growth, MCPS is using 404 relocatable classrooms this school year, with almost 90 percent located at elementary schools.
The district’s growth is expected to continue in the years to come. By the 2020-2021 school year, enrollment in MCPS is expected to reach 165,358 students, an increase of more than 11,000 students from this year. This is expected to include dramatic growth in secondary schools, as the current enrollment “bubble” in elementary schools moves into middle and high schools. This will lead to growing space shortages in secondary schools in the coming years.
After the proposal for additional state revenue fell through earlier this year, the Montgomery County Council approved a $1.53 billion capital building plan, which was $214 million less than requested by the school board. The approved CIP funded several classroom additions and allowed other construction projects—including three new schools and six revitalization/expansions (formerly called modernizations)—to remain on schedule. This included four projects that opened or will open this school year: the new Wilson Wims Elementary School in Clarksburg and revitalization/expansions at Bel Pre, Candlewood and Rock Creek Forest elementary schools.
However, 20 other revitalization/expansion projects across the county and new elementary schools in the Richard Montgomery and Northwest clusters were delayed. The increase Starr is requesting will put these projects back on the schedule originally approved by the board.
Starr is also recommending $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 underway and earlier this month the Board approved a change to the plan that would make it easier to expand the school in the future.
Starr is recommending several projects aimed at relieving crowding in the schools and making the best use of classroom additions and available space. The projects point to some redistricting of students in Germantown and Gaithersburg,
Clarksburg and Northwest high schools are expected to be 500 and 300 students over capacity, respectively, by 2020. A revitalization/expansion project for Seneca Valley High School, which is adjacent to the Clarksburg and Northwest clusters, is scheduled for completion in 2019. Starr’s amendments would move that up to 2018. Starr is recommending that the revitalization/expansion project at Seneca Valley High School increase the school’s capacity to 2,400 students and that some of the additional space be used to alleviate space deficits at Clarksburg and Northwest high schools.
Starr is also recommending a feasibility study to explore ways to relieve crowding at Rachel Carson Elementary School in Gaithersburg. That school is more than 300 students over capacity and enrollment is expected to continue to grow. However, the school is not a viable location for an expansion project, according to the school system. Starr is recommending the district explore additions to Jones Lane Elementary School in Darnestown and DuFief Elementary School on DuFief Drive in Gaithersburg, which could then alleviate the crowding at Rachel Carson. Rachel Carson has ten portable classrooms on site this year, according to school officials.
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.
Starr is proposing that the Alternative Education Programs be relocated to a facility on Bestor Drive in Rockville, known as the English Manor site. The configuration of this building 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.
Starr’s recommendation calls for a feasibility study to 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 site would begin in FY 2016 with a scheduled completion date of August 2017.
Rock Terrace School and Tilden Middle School
Starr is proposing 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 building in Rockville. The state of Maryland strongly discourages stand-alone special education centers and may not fund improvements at stand-alone centers. The collocation of special education centers with general education schools is a successful model that has been implemented elsewhere in the county’s school system.
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 is expected to 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 is scheduled to begin its work in December and submit a report to the superintendent. Starr is expected to bring a recommendation to the Board in February.
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 more than 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.
Starr is recommending that $32 million be included in the CIP for the redevelopment of the Ewing site as a bus depot, with a scheduled completion date of January 2019.
Also, Dr. Starr is also recommending:
- A boundary study be conducted in spring 2015 to determine a recommended attendance zone for a the new Clarksburg/Damascus middle school that will relieve overutilization at Rocky Hill and Neelsville middle schools that will serve the Clarksburg and Damascus clusters, due to open in August 2016;
- That a planned addition at Ashburton Elementary School, in Bethesda, be expanded so the school can accommodate 881 students, instead of 767 as originally planned; and
- 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.
On October 15, Starr had released proposed revisions to the district’s long-range planning regulation (FAA-RA) and a recommended site for a new elementary school in the Clarksburg cluster. (Read more)
The Montgomery County Board of Education is scheduled to consider Starr’s recommendations at a worksession on November 6. Two public hearings on the recommended amendments are scheduled for November 12 and November 13, with a final Board vote expected on November 17.