It is said that, “Good things come to those who wait.” Well, the residents of Germantown have been waiting for a very long time for a new Seneca Valley High School. It seems they will have to wait a bit longer.
The good news is that the new high school will be the largest in Montgomery County — perhaps the largest in the State of Maryland. The bad news is that students will have to wait a full year to enjoy the new school.
Seneca Valley High School Principal Marc Cohen informed parents at a recent PTSA meeting that — while construction will begin on schedule this summer — the work will take longer than the originally anticipated two years. As a result, instead of opening to students in 2019, the new school will open to students in the fall of 2020.
The reason for the delay explained Dennis Cross, a project manager with Montgomery County Public School’s Division of Construction is the complexity of the project, the highly choreographed dance of building a new school and while keeping the existing school open, and the fact that the 29.4 acre property sits on a significant hill.
“The project is a multi-phase project— the building of the new school, the demolition of the existing building, and the construction of the fields,” said Cross. “It had originally been planned for the building to open in 2019. While we have been striving throughout the last two years of design to meet that goal, we will not be able to meet that goal.”
According to Cross, the delay “comes from the complexity of the site. We are definitely putting 10 pounds in a 5-pound bag. We don’t have a lot of room to maneuver. It is also compounded by the fact that we are keeping the school open while construction takes place.”
He also said that the plot of land the school occupies also contributes significantly adds to the need to push back the opening of the new school. “The slope of the site. I believe it is 50-feet from the high point to the low point, is necessitating a lot of retaining walls. It is a very complex project. I have been responsible for the majority of high schools built in Montgomery County for the last 15 years, and this is the most complex building we’ve ever put together. With that said, the new completion date for the building is Fall 2020.”
“We have been talking about this for years,” said Cohen to the parents gathered in the media center at Seneca Valley High School. “When I got to Seneca Valley in 2010, I was told that we needed a new school. Then I was told that the project had been on the books for months, for years, for decades. Then all of sudden some magic happened. The testimony started to pay off. The parent advocacy started to pay off. Many of the people in this room made this happen through going to County Council meetings, and Board of Education meetings, and writing the governor, and local state officials. You all made this happen.”
“This summer you are going to begin to see the fruits of your labor,” said Cohen.
The new school will be constructed. MCPS has put the project out to bid for contractors. The bids were originally due May 10, but because of size and scope of the project, MCPS has extended the bid deadline until next Tuesday, May 16.
“We fully expect to be on site this summer replacing existing utilities so that we can clear them out of the new construction zone and begin construction while the existing school will continue to be serviced by all the various utilities,” said Cross.
“We are keeping the start date for construction the same,” said Cross, “but we are moving the completion date back a full year,” Cross said that it wouldn't take a full year to actually complete the building. He estimates it will take about 32 months, however, after speaking with Dr. Cohen, it was decided that rather than making the move to the new building during the school year, it would be better the make the move from the existing school to the new school over the summer and start fresh in the fall of 2020.
“It is too large of a transition to try to implement over Spring Break. It will also give us an opportunity to shake the building out and get the punch list items taken care of, and also get the mechanical systems commissioned before the school year starts,” said Cross.
The new school, once completed will be a massive four-story building centered on the area of land currently occupied by the football stadium. The building will have a capacity of 2,400 students, nearly double the current enrollment of 1,278 students. The increased capacity to Seneca Valley High School provides the opportunity to address projected overutilization of nearby Clarksburg and Northwest high schools through student reassignments in the future. The cost for the new school construction is estimated to be around $130 million. The new school will replace a school which was built in 1974.
“The current school is around 250,000 square feet,” according to Cross, and the new school is going to be slightly less than double that size. The new school will be coming in a 440,000 square feet. It will take over as the largest school in Montgomery County and the largest school in Maryland.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of articles about the construction of the new Seneca Valley High School. Look for more articles about what students, parents, and community members can expect as the Seneca Valley community begins to grapple with the challenges of building a new school while continue to use the existing building and grounds.
Top: An overview of the new Seneca Valley High School plans presented to parents at Tuesday’s PTSA meeting at the school.
Next: An architectural rendering of the main entrance of the new Seneca Valley High School.
Photos courtesy MCPS and Mosely Architects.