Interim Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Larry A. Bowers' $1.72 billion six-year school Capital Improvement Plan, which was presented to the media and public at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown because the school symbolizes the district’s need to update and expand existing buildings, includes the revitalization of Seneca Valley, along with continuing planned additions to Christie McAuliffe Elementary School, the construction of a new elementary school in Clarksburg. The plan pushes back the construction of the new Northwest Cluster Elementary School No. 8 for one year.
The $1.72 billion six-year school construction plan for Montgomery County Public Schools, which includes several new projects that will add much-needed classroom space for the district. The Superintendent’s Recommended Fiscal Year (FY) 2017–2022 Capital Improvements Program represents a $172 million increase over the current six-year CIP, which is needed to deal with the district’s rapid enrollment growth.
Bowers’ recommended CIP includes 10 new classroom addition projects—six in elementary schools and four in secondary schools — and a new elementary school in the Clarksburg cluster. The CIP recommendation also maintains the timeline for many projects that are already approved in the current CIP. Bowers also is recommending a significant investment in the district’s infrastructure needs, including increased funding for the replacement of aging heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units across the district.
If all the projects in the recommended CIP are built on time, 12,249 seats would be added across the district by the 2021–2022 school year.
“It is very appropriate that we are at Seneca Valley,” said Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill, “because it epitomizes the needs here in Montgomery County and the future growth the new Seneca Valley will help to take care of.”
For the past two years, the Board of Education and the County Council have lobbied for additional state revenue that could be used to accelerate the timeline on many shovel-ready projects. While those efforts have not been successful, Bowers said that state and local leaders know that there are significant capital needs in MCPS, Maryland’s largest and fastest-growing school district.
“It is clear that we have reached a breaking point,” said Councilmember Craig Rice, who sits on the Council’s Education Committee and represents the Germantown area as the District 2 representative. “This breaking point is one where we can no longer hold our schools together relying on the great work of our building service staff and principals and teachers to creatively come up with ways in which we can meet the needs, the quite frankly haven’t been met at our state level. It has been very frustrating that we continue to travel to Annapolis, hand-in-hand with our Board of Education, our teachers, our education advocates to demand that we need to do better for our children, only to leave empty handed.”
Frances Frost, president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations said, “As MCCPTA we maintain that schools should be safe, modern, comfortable and welcoming environments for students and staff to facilitate learning.” She went on to say, “We will continue to urge the County Council to recognize that our aging and overcrowded buildings have reached the point of crisis including an unacceptable number of relocatable classrooms and there is no choice but to increase funds for school construction.”
Bowers said, “As our enrollment continues to grow, many of our schools are operating well above their capacity limits and too many of our students are going to school in older buildings that are beyond the expected life cycle. While I recognize that Montgomery County continues to struggle with revenue shortfalls, I must advocate for the facilities we need to provide our students and staff with the learning environments they deserve.”
Bowers’ recommendation keeps the timeline intact for previously approved revitalization/expansion projects. The Seneca Valley High School revitalization/expansion project is recommended to remain on schedule to open in August 2019.
A revitalization/ expansion project of Seneca Valley High School, scheduled for completion in August 2019, will be designed and constructed with a capacity for 2400 students. The enrollment at Seneca Valley High School is projected to be 1392 students by the end of the six-year planning period. With a capacity of 2400 seats, there will be approximately 1000 seats available to accommodate students from Clarksburg and Northwest high schools when the project is complete.
Enrollment in MCPS this school year is 156,455 students, a one-year increase of more than 2,600 students. Since 2007, MCPS enrollment has increased by 18,710 students, mostly at the elementary school level.
As the current enrollment “bubble” in elementary school begins moving into secondary schools, MCPS expects significant capacity concerns in middle and high schools across the district in the coming years. By the 2021–2022 school year, secondary school enrollment is projected to increase by more than 10,000 students — 3,500 in middle schools and 6,800 in high schools. That is enough students to fill three middle schools and three high schools.
To address capacity concerns, Bowers is recommending 10 new classroom addition projects at schools outside of the Germantown/Clarksburg area and is keeping the timeline for many others. Bowers also maintains the completion dates of five previously approved elementary school addition projects and is accelerating by one year the timeline for projects at S. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School in Germantown and Ashburton Elementary School in Bethesda, which have among the largest space deficits in the district.
Projections indicate enrollment at S. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School will exceed capacity by 92 seats or more by the end of the six-year planning period. A classroom addition is scheduled for this school with a completion date of August 2019. An FY 2017 appropriation is recommended for planning funds to begin the architectural design for a classroom addition. Relocatable classrooms will be utilized until additional capacity can be added. In order for this project to be completed on schedule, county and state funding must be provided at the levels recommended in Bower’s proposed CIP.
In developing this CIP, Bowers increased the threshold of overcrowding which would make an elementary school eligible for an addition from 92 students over capacity to 125 students over capacity. That change in the threshold eligibility means that four schools for which classroom addition feasibility studies were conducted are not recommended for projects, including Lake Seneca Elementary School in Germantown.
Although revised enrollment projections indicate that enrollment at Lake Seneca Elementary School will exceed capacity by 113 seats by the end of the six-year planning period, due to fiscal constraints in the county a space deficit of 125 seats was identified to fund an elementary school addition project in this CIP. Therefore, no funds are recommended in this CIP for a classroom addition. An addition may be considered in a future CIP. Relocatable classrooms will be utilized to accommodate the enrollment.
“I know these communities will be disappointed that their projects are not included in my CIP recommendation,” Bowers said. “We will continue to monitor enrollment at these schools and will take action if capacity concerns start to grow. However, we must use our existing funds where they will have the biggest impact and address the most pressing needs.”
The interim superintendent’s recommended CIP also adds one new school, an elementary school in Clarksburg that would open in August 2019. The recommended CIP also maintains the timeline for three previously approved new schools —a Clarksburg/Damascus middle school opening in August 2016. However, Bowers is recommending a one-year delay in the construction of a new elementary school in the Northwest cluster because the space deficit in that area has decreased in recent years. The new Northwest Cluster Elementary School project would now open in August 2019.
Projections indicate enrollment at several elementary schools in the Northwest Cluster will exceed capacity throughout the six-year planning period. Relocatable classrooms will be utilized at these schools until Northwest No.8 opens. The Northwest Cluster elementary school space deficit has dropped from previous years. Based on a deficit evaluation of schools with proposed addition projects and recognizing the challenge to fund all the projects, the Northwest Elementary School ES No.8 is recommended for a one year delay from August 2018 to August 2019. FY 2018 expenditures are programmed to construct the new school. In order for this project to be completed on schedule, county and state funding must be provided at the levels recommended in Bower’s proposed CIP.
Bowers is recommending a significant investment in system infrastructure improvements and HVAC replacements. In order to deal with growing enrollment, MCPS has focused more of its CIP funding on building capacity in recent years and has put off essential HVAC replacements and other infrastructure improvements. In order to keep up with HVAC replacements and eliminate its large backlog, MCPS would have to spend $28 million a year for the next 10 years.
To begin addressing this need, Bowers is recommending that $122 million be spent over the next six years on HVAC replacements, a $30 million increase over the current CIP. He also is recommending that $50 million be spent on roof replacements over the next six years, an increase of $8.1 million, and $13.3 million be spent on fire safety upgrades, an increase of $6 million.
Bowers is recommending a new system wide project to install artificial turf fields at the 19 high schools that currently do not have turf fields. Athletic fields at MCPS schools — especially high schools — are frequently used by the school and the community. Artificial turf fields can be used more frequently, are less impacted by wet weather, and require less overall maintenance. Bowers is recommending that $11 million be spent over the next six years on this project and is hoping that private/public partnerships can be developed to offset the cost of constructing and maintaining the fields.
Top: Interim Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Larry A. Bowers presents his recommendations at Seneca Valley High School on Wednesday.
Next: Board of Education Presdient Patricia O'Neill.
Next: Montgomery County Councilmember Craig Rice.
Next: Frances Frost, president of the MCCPTA.
Next: Proposed site for the revitalization/expansion of Seneca Valley High School scheduled to open August 2019, with the site to be completed in 2020.
Next: Christa McAulife Elementary School in Germantown.
Next: Seneca Lake Elementary School in Germantown.
Next: Seneca Valley High School was the site of the MCPS presentation of the annual CIP budget recommendations.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.