Interim Superintendent Releases Recommendations to Address School Capacity Issues

October 15, 2015

Interim Superintendent of Schools Larry A. Bowers released recommendations Thursday (October 15, 2015) to address construction and school capacity issues throughout the district. The five recommendations are supplements to the interim superintendent’s new six-year Capital Improvements Program, which will be released later this month.

The five recommendations that Mr. Bowers released today are:

  • The attendance zone for a new Clarksburg/Damascus middle school, which will open in August 2016;
  • Four classroom addition projects that would relieve capacity issues at several elementary schools in the lower portion of the Downcounty Consortium;
  • A roundtable discussion group to gather input on options to accommodate enrollment increases and capacity issues in schools in the Gaithersburg cluster, that will include representatives from the Col. Zadok Magruder and Thomas S. Wootton clusters;
  • A roundtable discussion group to gather input on a range of options to accommodate short-term and long-term enrollment increases in the Walter Johnson cluster; and
  • Increasing the size of a revitalization/expansion project at DuFief Elementary School to alleviate capacity issues at Rachel Carson Elementary School.

“A tremendous amount of work was done to inform these recommendations and I appreciate the active participation of our community in this process,” Mr. Bowers said. “There are no simple solutions or easy decisions, and I look forward to discussing these recommendations further with the Board and our community members in the coming weeks.”

These recommendations will be considered by the Montgomery County Board of Education as part of its review of the Superintendent’s Recommended Fiscal Year (FY) 2017–2022 Capital Improvements Program (CIP). Mr. Bowers will release his full six-year CIP recommendation on October 28, 2015.

The Board will hold a work session (November 5, 2015) and two public hearings (November 9 and 12, 2015) on the CIP before approving a final request on November 16, 2015, that will be submitted to the Montgomery County Executive and County Council for consideration.

All of the recommendations can be viewed on the MCPS website.

Clarksburg/Damascus Middle School Boundaries

A new middle school—currently known as Clarksburg/Damascus Middle School—will open in August 2016 and is primarily needed to address enrollment growth in the area and space deficits at Rocky Hill Middle School. Mr. Bowers is recommending that students from Wilson Wims and Cedar Grove elementary schools matriculate to the new middle school.

A boundary advisory committee was established to consider attendance zone options for the new school and met four times from March to May. Two public information sessions also were held, one in February at the beginning of the process and the other in June at the end of the process.

The boundary advisory committee considered seven different options for the attendance zone and, after thorough review, strongly supported the option that Mr. Bowers is recommending. If Mr. Bowers’ recommendation is approved, students entering Grades 6 and 7 next school year would attend the new middle school, with Grade 8 being added during the 2017–2018 school year. No other school boundaries would be impacted by the interim superintendent’s recommendation.

Downcounty Consortium Elementary Schools

Mr. Bowers is recommending classroom additions at four elementary schools in the Downcounty Consortium (DCC) to provide relief at several schools that are currently over-capacity.

Elementary schools in the DCC have seen significant enrollment increases over the past seven years. Currently, DCC elementary schools are nearly 1,400 seats over capacity. Even if all the currently approved projects are built on time, DCC elementary schools will still have a significant space deficit.

Last school year, MCPS conducted a capacity study at 12 DCC elementary schools to explore options, including classroom additions, constructing a new school, or a combination of the two. The elementary schools that were including the study were East Silver Spring, Forest Knolls, Highland View, Montgomery Knolls, New Hampshire Estates, Oak View, Pine Crest, Piney Branch, Rolling Terrace, Sligo Creek, Takoma Park, and Woodlin. Based on current projections, these 12 schools will have a space deficit of 786 seats by 2021–2022 school year.

The capacity study included two public information meetings, one in March at the beginning of the process and one in June at the end of the process.  Two community meetings to present possible design options were held at the schools that were studied. An architectural firm developed possible designs for additions at these schools.  Additions were not designed for Takoma Park or Piney Branch elementary schools, because they cannot currently accommodate additional classrooms.

Based on the outcome of the capacity study and the current financial situation in the county, Mr. Bowers is recommending additions at four schools and not a new school. Additions at Montgomery Knolls, Pine Crest, East Silver Spring, and Woodlin elementary schools would be completed by August 2020. These projects would not only increase capacity at these schools, but also would relieve capacity issues at Rolling Terrace and Forest Knolls elementary schools. Mr. Bowers also is recommending a feasibility study to determine the possibility of building an addition at Piney Branch Elementary School.

Gaithersburg, Magruder, and Wootton Cluster Roundtable Discussion Group

The Gaithersburg cluster has seen significant growth over the past several years, leading to some elementary schools being over capacity. With new housing planned as part of the Crown development and the Shady Grove Sector Plan, enrollment is expected to grow more in the Gaithersburg cluster, increasing capacity issues at some schools.

Last school year, an elementary school capacity study was conducted in the Gaithersburg cluster to determine whether additions to existing schools or a new school could address current and future capacity issues. However, both approaches create significant challenges in terms of future enrollment, the size of the schools, and the potential reassignment of students.

While elementary school enrollment in the Gaithersburg cluster has increased by 737 students since 2007, elementary school enrollment in the Col. Zadok Magruder cluster has increased by just 104 students and has decreased by 217 students in the Thomas S. Wootton cluster. Half of the elementary schools in the Col. Zadok Magruder and Thomas S. Wootton clusters have student enrollments that are below 450 students.

Because of the enrollment growth in the Gaithersburg cluster, as well as the challenges with the options developed in the capacity study and the potential reassignment of students, Mr. Bowers is recommending that a roundtable discussion group be held to take a broad look at school enrollments, utilization levels, and facility options in the Gaithersburg, Col. Zadok Magruder and Thomas S. Wootton clusters. The tri-cluster roundtable group will explore approaches to distribute some of the enrollment growth in the three clusters. Approaches may include redistributing housing from new developments and/or reassigning existing areas, as well as other options that may come up during the process. The approaches developed by the roundtable discussion group would be general in nature and no boundary changes would be considered as part of this process.

 “As we deal with capacity issues throughout the district, we have an obligation to our community and our taxpayers to look at all options available to us,” Mr. Bowers said. “I look forward to hearing from the roundtable discussion group as we consider the capital needs of these clusters.”

Walter Johnson Cluster Roundtable Discussion Group

The interim superintendent also is recommending a roundtable discussion group to gather input on options to address near-term and long-term enrollment increases in the Walter Johnson cluster.

Since 2007, enrollment in the Walter Johnson cluster has increased by 1,260 students in elementary schools, 481 students in middle schools and 334 student in high school. With new developments planned for the area—including White Flint and Rock Springs—this growth is expected to continue in the years to come.

Mr. Bowers is asking the roundtable discussion group to explore options at all school levels, including whether to reopen closed schools and the possible construction of a new school. The roundtable discussion group would only consider options in the Walter Johnson cluster. The report of the roundtable group will be used to inform recommendations for future facility planning options.

Rachel Carson Elementary School

Rachel Carson Elementary School currently serves more than 1,000 students in a school building that has a capacity of 667 students. The school currently uses 10 relocatable classrooms to manage the overutilization and, due to the configuration of the building and the land, it cannot be expanded.

Last year, the Board of Education approved feasibility studies for additions at three nearby elementary schools, which could be used to alleviated capacity issues at Rachel Carson Elementary School. The Board also asked the district to study the feasibility of building a new school in the Quince Orchard cluster, in which Rachel Carson Elementary School is located.

The studies were conducted last school year and, based on the findings, Mr. Bowers is recommending that the building capacity of DuFief Elementary School be increased to 740 students as part of a planned revitalization/expansion. With enrollment in DuFief Elementary School expected to be about 330 students by 2021—2022, there would be more than 400 available seats to alleviate capacity issues at Rachel Carson Elementary School. A date for the DuFief Elementary School revitalization/expansion project has not been finalized and the reassignment of Rachel Carson Elementary School students would not take place until that project is completed.

Mr. Bowers said that building a new school in the Quince Orchard cluster would be much more expensive than his recommended solution and that the overall capacity issues in the Quince Orchard cluster do not warrant a new school.

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