Superintendent Recommends Rock Creek Hills Park Site for New B-CC Middle School

March 30, 2012
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Joshua P. Starr is recommending that a new middle school in the Bethesda Chevy-Chase cluster be built on the site of Rock Creek Hills Local Park. The Montgomery County Board of Education will consider Dr. Starr’s recommendation at its meeting on April 17.

The Rock Creek Hills site was the overwhelming recommendation of the Site Selection Advisory Committee (SSAC) that reviewed 38 possible locations for the new middle school, which is slated to open in August 2017.

“The Site Selection Advisory Committee did an outstanding job and provided a strong recommendation for the Rock Creek Hills site,” Dr. Starr said. “Available land is very limited in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster and I commend the committee for conducting a thorough and transparent review of all available sites.”

Dr. Starr said he appreciated the input and involvement of the community in the process and recognizes that, while a large majority of the SSAC endorsed the Rock Creek Hills park site, there are some who still have concerns.

“We will work closely with the community to build a school that serves the academic needs of our students and has a population that reflects the diversity of the whole Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster,” Dr. Starr said. “MCPS is also committed to being a good neighbor. The school’s outdoor playfields, as well as the school gymnasium and meeting spaces, will be an amenity available to the community outside of school hours.”

Site Selection Process

The property was previously owned by the Board of Education and was the location of Kensington Junior High School, which closed in 1979. The Board transferred the land to the county, with the provision it could be reclaimed if the land was ever needed for a school. The property was subsequently transferred to the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) in 1990 for use as a park.

On April 28, 2011, the Board of Education voted to reclaim the land from M-NCPPC and locate the new middle school on the Rock Creek Hills site. After the Board’s vote, concerns were raised about the site selection process, notification to the neighborhood and the appropriateness of the site for a school. On Nov. 2, 2011, Dr. Starr—who began his tenure at MCPS after the Board’s April 2011 vote—recommended that a new site selection process be conducted for the middle school.

Dr. Starr also asked that changes to the site selection process be made including the use of an external facilitator; outreach to all SSAC participants in advance to solicit site options; inclusion of homeowner association representatives that have candidate sites in their communities; inclusion of minority reports in the final SSAC report; and the release of the SSAC recommendation for public comment.

The new SSAC had 47 members and met four times. The committee reviewed 38 possible sites for the new middle school—10 sites that were reviewed in the first site selection process and 28 additional sites. After discussion, sites were eliminated mainly due to size, environmental constraints and the unavailability of private land, or the high cost of obtaining it.  At its final meeting on February 22, the committee recommended Rock Creek Hills Local Park as its preferred site and North Chevy Chase Hills Local Park as an alternate.

The SSAC’s report was posted for public comment on March 12. A total of 51 comments were received, with 32 comments in support of the SSAC recommendation of the Rock Creek Hills site and 19 opposed.  The comments in favor of the site generally expressed the view that the process was thorough, reviewed all possible locations for the middle school and urged the approval of the site so the school can remain on schedule to open in August 2017. Opponents urged the school system to consider another site and not convert this community park for school use.

“I asked for a new site selection committee because I had concerns about the openness and transparency of the process the first time,” Dr. Starr said. “It is my hope that everyone—even those that do not agree with my recommendation—feels better about the process and understands the basis for my recommendation."

Minority Reports

The SSAC report includes seven minority reports submitted by members of the committee, some of which expressed concerns about the process or raised specific concerns about the suitability of Rock Creek Hills Local Park.

“I believe most of the seven minority reports were fair in expressing the respective concerns of the authors about the recommendation,” Dr. Starr wrote to the Board. “However, in the end, I did not find the comments opposing the selection of Rock Creek Hills Local Park to be persuasive, and I do not agree with comments that the process was not sufficiently thorough.” 

In the recommendation, Dr. Starr specifically responded to two minority reports from Mr. Fred Boyd, community planner in the Montgomery County Department of Planning, and Ms. Brooke Farquhar, supervisor in the Montgomery County Department of Parks. Dr. Starr believed these minority reports contained “inaccurate or misleading comments about the process, the analysis of sites, and the recommendation by the SSAC.” 
Dr. Starr said he understands the concerns about student diversity raised by some authors of minority reports. He said in his recommendation that the school system and Board of Education are committed to making sure the student enrollment at the new middle school and at Westland Middle School reflect the diversity of the cluster when school boundaries are drawn.

Superintendent's Site Recommendation for B-CC Middle School #2

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