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Schools Chief Seeks Funds to Complete Construction Projects Sooner


By Kevin O’Rourke

As part of the Montgomery County Public Schools Capital Improvements Program budget, Superintendent of Schools Joshua Starr is recommending a number changes to projects that could change the landscape of schools in the Germantown area, and he is asking the Board of Education and County Council for more funds to complete school construction projects sooner to deal with projected overcrowding.

After the proposal for additional state revenue fell through earlier this year, the Montgomery County Council approved a $1.53 billion Capital Improvements Budget (CIP) for fiscal-year (FY) 2015-2020, which was $214 million less than the Board of Education requested. The approved CIP funded several classroom additions and allowed other construction projects—including three new schools and six revitalization or expansions—to remain on schedule. This included the new Wilson Wims Elementary School in Clarksburg and three other revitalizations or expansions at elementary schools in other clusters.

Starr is asking to increase the CIP budget to $1.75 billion adding $220.8 million to address significant space needs in the county school system. The majority of the additional funds would restore the timeline of projects that were delayed last year. 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.

“The $221 million increase in our six-year CIP would allow us to move up the timeline of 36 construction projects,” said Starr. 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. Much of that growth has been in the early grades, leading to significant space deficits in elementary schools across the district. 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.

“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.”

The MCPS breaks down school areas into clusters of elementary and middle schools that feed high schools. In Germantown, there are three clusters that feed three area high schools the Northwest Cluster, the Seneca Valley Cluster and the Clarksburg Cluster.

Seneca Valley High School Revitalization

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 is scheduled for completion in 2019. Starr recommends moving the revitalization/expansion of Seneca Valley High School up to 2018.

It would increase the school’s capacity to 2,400 students—1,000 more than the current level— and allow some of the additional space to be used to alleviate projected overcrowding at Clarksburg and Northwest high schools. This may mean that MCPS is planning to conduct a boundary study for the newly revitalized/expanded Seneca Valley High School, but it was not outlined in Tuesday’s report.

The recommended completion dates of August 2018 for the facility and 2019 for the site reflect the Board of Education’s FY 2015–2020 CIP request submitted in November 2013. The funds to begin the architectural design for the project were approved earlier this year as part of a FY 2014 appropriation. “In order for this project to be completed on schedule, county and state funding must be provided at the levels recommended in this CIP,” said the MCPS Seneca Valley Cluster Recommended Actions and Planning Issues report released Tuesday.

Other recommended improvements for the Seneca Valley Cluster moving up the approved classroom addition for S. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, in Germantown, from 2020 to 2019, due to projected enrollment increases for the school. MCPS plans to begin the addition’s architectural design in FY 2017.

In the meantime, the school will continue to use relocatable. Again, the report states that county and state funding must be provided at the levels recommended in the CIP, this project to be completed on schedule.

Lake Seneca Elementary School, which is also expected to exceed capacity by almost 100 seats by the end of the CIP period, according to MCPS. In this case, a FY 2014 appropriation was approved for planning to determine the feasibility, scope and cost of a classroom addition, but the actual date of the addition has not been set, according to MCPS. Lake Seneca Elementary will also use relocatable classrooms or trailers until then.

New Northwest Cluster Elementary School Moved Up

In the Northwest Cluster, Starr is recommending that the long-discussed new elementary school, Northwest Elementary School Number Eight, be completed in August 2017 rather than August 2018 completion date previously approved by the County Council. A fiscal-year 2016 appropriation is recommended to construct the new school, which will be located on 12.7 acres of Board of Education owned property on Shaeffer Farm Road, near Trinity United Methodist Church.

The new school is necessary because enrollment projections at the several elementary schools in the Northwest Cluster, including Clopper Mill Elementary School, Ronald McNair Elementary School and Spark Matsunaga Elementary School will exceed capacity by more than 92 students each by the end of the CIP period.

Schools in the cluster, which are currently overcrowded, will continue to use relocateable classrooms until the new school at Schaeffer Road is completed.

Starr also recommends moving the planned classroom addition for Diamond Elementary School, which is in Gaithersburg, but partially feeds Northwest High School, from a completion date of August 2018 by a year. He aims to begin construction in FY 2016.

New Clarksburg/Damascus Middle School

In the Clarksburg Cluster, construction has already started on a classroom addition at Clarksburg High School which is schedule to be ready for students next August.