New elementary school design approved

school busROCKVILLE – The board of education approved the design plans for a new elementary school to be built in Rockville, but whether it will be built by the 2018 deadline is uncertain.

According to the current Capital Improvements Plan, the fifth elementary school for the over-capacity Richard Montgomery Cluster is slated to open in August 2018. However, Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers will release his recommendations for the 2017 plan next month. Then parent-teacher association members and the board of education will have a clearer idea as to whether the project will begin next school year.

Even if the board includes the project in its capital budget for fiscal year 2017, the County Council has to approve the budget, too. The council rejected the school project for fiscal year 2016, which began in July.

Residential development was prohibited in the cluster earlier this year to stem overcrowding at its schools – three of four are over capacity – but the moratorium ended in June when the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance changed to match the county’s higher standard for overcapacity.

The new school will have a larger gym and larger rooms, such as the multipurpose room and cafeteria, than other elementary schools in the county in anticipation of increased enrollment after a couple of years of being open, Rockville Mayor Bridgette Donnell Newton said.

The school is designed to hold 602 initially rather than the typical 740 for an elementary school in the county, said Melissa McKenna, Capital Improvement Plan president of the Council of Parent-Teacher Associations for the county. Under the APFO, a school must have enough students available to fill 50 percent of the seats before it can open.

The school’s design includes a permanent addition a few years down the road. Newton said she thinks the school should be built to seat 740 from the beginning, given some proposed housing development projects that would increase the student population.

Jim Wasilak, Rockville chief of zoning, said several residential development projects were approved for the city but have not been completed.

“So there's a whole pipeline of approved but unbuilt projects in the city,” Wasilak said. “(There are) still some pending applications.”

Bainbridge at Shady Grove Metro is starting to lease its 417 residential units, Wasilak said. Rockville has a pending project on a property adjacent to the Bainbridge facility that proposes 405 residential units.

A development by the Twinbrook Metro station for 1,600 residential units was approved in 2005. Five-hundred of those units have been built so far.

Jennifer Young, coordinator for the Richard Montgomery Cluster, said the school’s construction would have started by now construction but that funding in the capital budget was not approved for this fiscal year.

“Ordinarily, we’d go right into construction, but because we didn’t have a construction fund approved last year, we have to wait until May,” Young said.

Young said the cluster has great need for the school given that three of its four elementary schools are over capacity.

“The kids need this. We need to break ground,” Young said. “Hopefully, (county) council gives us the money.”

Rebecca Smondrowski, board member for the section of the county the school would be in, said all CIP projects for fiscal year 2015 were delayed, including the Rockville elementary school.

Smondrowski said Richard Montgomery is one of the most overcrowded clusters in the county. She voted for the board to approve the school’s design.

“It’s not a secret that Montgomery County has a shortage of seats, so anything we can do to alleviate that I’m supportive of,” Smondrowksi said.

Newton showed her support for the project by attending the board of education business meeting during which the design was approved.

Rockville will contribute $400,000 to the project for the school to have a larger gymnasium. The gym would include a storage room and extra space for bleachers, Newton said. Rockville Parks and Recreation programs would be able to the gym.

“The city and MCPS and are working together closely to make sure the process from here on out goes smoothly,” Newton said.

Newton said she is hopeful the County Council will understand the city’s need for the school.

“It’s not just for the city; it’s for Rockville’s children,” Newton said.                                        

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