Superintendent Jack R. Smith presented his recommended Capital Improvement Program recommendations to the Board of Education at Monday evening’s meeting. The plan includes two new elementary schools in the Clarksburg cluster, as well as boundary studies in both the Clarksburg area and in Germantown to determine boundaries once the new Seneca Valley High School is completed.
Smith is recommending a $1.818 billion six-year school construction plan for Montgomery County Public Schools, which includes 30 capacity projects to address space deficits in the school district. The Superintendent’s Recommended Fiscal Year (FY) 2019–2024 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) represents a $74 million increase over the current six-year CIP, which is needed to deal with the district’s rapid enrollment growth.
“We are confronted with the need to be both aggressive in addressing our significant school facilities needs and fiscally responsible within the County spending guidelines,” stated Smith. “This recommendation accomplishes both by addressing the most critical capacity and infrastructure project needs for Montgomery County Public Schools.”
Two New Elementary Schools in Clarksburg
Smith’s 2019-2024 CIP includes three new elementary schools, two in Clarksburg and one in the Richard Montgomery cluster, and four new elementary addition projects including additional capacity at Ronald McNair in Germantown, as well as Cresthaven, DuFief, and Roscoe R. Nix elementary schools.
The Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School which is known as Clarksburg Village Site #2 was approved in an FY2018 appropriation and is scheduled to open in September 2019 to relieve projected overutilization in the Clarksburg Cluster. The school is to be constructed on a 9.76-acre tract of land at the intersection of Snowden Farm Parkway and Newcut Road.
However, the MCPS does not own the land. According to the Appendix X in the Superintendent’s Recommended FY 2018 Capital Budget, which was released in November 2016, the land is listed under “Master Planned School Sites Titled to Others” and not under “Board of Education Owned Sites.”
According to the report of the Site Selection Advisory Committee for the Clarksburg Village ES #2 which was filed in June of 2014, “The site currently is owned by Clarksburg Village, LLC. The site is relatively flat, having been rough graded by the developer.”
The second new elementary school in the Clarksburg Cluster, known as Clarksburg Elementary #9 is recommended to begin a site selection study and to identify the location for a new elementary school in the cluster. Last year, an FY 2018 appropriation was approved for facility planning to conduct a feasibility study to determine the scope and cost for the new school.
This week’s release of Dr. Smith’s recommendations includes an FY 2019 appropriation for planning to begin the architectural design for the new school with an opening slated for September 2021. In order for this project to remain on this schedule, county and state funding must be provided. It is unclear if this new Clarksburg elementary school would be the Cabin Branch ES listed on the “Future School Sites” document included in the FY 2018 Educational Facilities Master Plan and Amendments to the FY 2017–2022 Capital Improvements Program on page 348.
Of course, with the addition of a new school, a boundary study would be required to determine which students would attend the new school. As such, the Superintendent recommends a boundary study begin for the Clarksburg area. “A boundary study is recommended for Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School (Clarksburg Village Site #2) to create the service area for the new school. The scope of the study will include Cedar Grove and Wilson Wims elementary schools. The boundary study will begin in spring 2018 with Board of Education action scheduled for November 2018.”
Classroom Additions for McNair Elementary School
Smith’s recommendation also includes an addition to Ronald McNair Elementary School at 13881 Hopkins Road in Germantown. “Projections indicate enrollment at Ronald McNair Elementary School will exceed capacity by more than 92 seats by the end of the six-year planning period,” according to the Northwest Cluster chapter of the 2019–2024 Capital Improvements Program (CIP).
In the past, the McNair experienced a slight decrease in enrollment , and as a result in 2016, the Board of Education in the FY 2017-2022 CIP, the Board of Education delayed the construction funds for two years. The delay was to provide an opportunity to monitor the cluster deficit and explore alternatives to address the overutilization at the elementary schools in the Northwest cluster. Based on the Board of Education’s decision, the County Council changed the name of this project to Northwest Cluster ES Solution in the FY 2017–2022 CIP.
For a few years, MCPS was considering building a new elementary school in the Northwest Cluster, it was known as Northwest Elementary School #8 and was to be built on land known as the Schaffer Farm just off Schaffer Road near Clopper Road in Germantown. However, a steep decline in elementary school enrollment in the area caused MCPS to shelve the new school in favor of the Northwest Cluster ES Solution in FY 2017-20022 CIP.
The most recent Northwest Chapter of the CIP says, “As part of the Amended FY 2017–2022 Amended CIP, the County Council, deleted the Northwest Cluster Elementary School Solution project and replaced it with the Clopper Mill Elementary School and Ronald McNair Elementary School Solution Project, in order to more accurately reflect the elementary service areas that would go into residential moratorium in the Northwest Cluster.”
However, according to MCPS, projections indicate that enrollment at McNair ES will exceed capacity by more than 150 seats by the end of the six-year planning period. The new CIP asks for an FY 2019 appropriation for planning is recommended to begin the architectural design for the addition project at McNair. This addition project is scheduled to be completed September 2021. According to the 2019 CIP, McNair will make use of relocatable classrooms until additional capacity can be provided.
Germantown High School Boundary Study
One of the big questions many Germantown parents have is, once the new Seneca Valley opens, where will my kids go to high school, now we know that the answer to that question will have to wait until November of 2019 when the boundary study is completed, and Board of Education makes a final decision.
As everyone easily predicted, the construction and eventual opening of the new Seneca Valley High School would lead to new boundaries for the three Germantown area high schools, Seneca Valley, Northwest, and Clarksburg high schools, as well as middle schools in the Germantown area.
Smith is recommending a boundary study for the area. “As part of the boundary study, middle school articulation patterns in the Seneca Valley Cluster will be reviewed in order to evaluate utilizations and articulation patterns. Therefore Roberto Clemente and Martin Luther King, Jr. middle schools will participate in the boundary study. The boundary study will begin in September 2018 with Board action scheduled in November 2019,” said the CIP.
One of the main reasons for the Seneca Valley revitalization is the continued overcrowding at Clarksburg and Northwest. According to the Smith’s CIP recommendation, student enrollment at Clarksburg High School will continue to exceed capacity by more than 800 students by the end of the six-year CIP planning period and Northwest will exceed capacity by more than 400 students over the same time. With a new capacity of 2,400 seats at Seneca Valley, there will be approximately 900 seats available to accommodate students from Clarksburg and Northwest high schools when the project is complete.
New High School in Crown Farm Site in Gaithersburg
Smith’s recommended CIP also calls for a new high school to be built in Gaithersburg on Fields Road in the Crown Farm area which would address overcrowding in the mid-county region at Quince Orchard and Gaithersburg high schools. Both Quince Orchard and Gaithersburg are expected to exceed capacity by more than 200 seats each or more by the end of the six-year planning period.
A new Crown Farm high school would impact Northwest since the Germantown high school currently takes in students from as far south as River Road in Darnestown. If a new school is built, it may also ease some capacity issues at Northwest High School once a new boundary study is completed.
“An FY 2019 appropriation for planning is recommended to begin the architectural design for this new school. Once the planning is complete, a recommendation will be included in the next full CIP regarding the phasing and completion date for the opening of this new high school,” according to MCPS documents.
For the 2017-2018 school year, enrollment is 161,936 students, a one-year increase of 2,926 students. Enrollment has increased by 24,191 students over the last 10 years.
For FY 2019, the preliminary state aid request is $115.6 million. This figure is based on current eligibility of projects approved by the County Council in May 2017. Of this $115.6 million request, $52.1 million is the balance of construction funding for eight projects, $56.2 million is for construction funding or planning and construction funding for nine projects, and $7.3 million is for systemic roofing and HVAC projects.
“The Board of Education thanks, Dr. Smith for his recommendations to address the capacity and infrastructure concerns of our growing school system,” said Michael A. Durso, president of the Board of Education. “My colleagues and I look forward to reviewing this CIP recommendation and hearing from our stakeholders in the coming weeks.”
The Board of Education will discuss Smith’s recommendations a school board work session planned for Thursday, Nov. 2, with public hearings to follow, on Monday, Nov. 6 and Wednesday, Nov. 8. A second board work session is Tuesday, Nov. 14, with a BOE vote expected at the meeting on Monday, Nov. 27.
Photos courtesy MCPS or Germantown Pulse File Photos.