POOLSVILLE — The Fair Access Committee, a coalition of advocates in Western Montgomery County, released outlines for the construction of a new multi-use facility centered around Poolesville High School.
Like many schools in Maryland, Poolesville is in dire need of repair. A report created by the Fair Access Committee calls for rebuilding the school and adding facilities that will benefit the community. Plans include a wellness center staffed with health professionals, community programs for children and seniors and a satellite precinct for Montgomery County Police.
According to the Montgomery County’s Health and Human Services Department, the Poolesville area has some of the worst health outcomes in the county because of unreliable or infrequent visits with medical professionals. Residents live in an area that is lacking in programs typically provided by the county, known as a service desert. Services like mental health assistance, senior living assistance, or even reliable and convenient public transportation all contribute to an underserved community.
“Montgomery County has failed to invest in the facilities, staffing and program resources needed to make these services available,” the Fair Access Committee wrote. “This part of the county pales in comparison to the many services offered to county residents who live in the southern, more-populated, portion of the county.”
Jim Brown, a member of the Fair Access Committee, created the organization while he was president of the Poolesville Town Commissioners. He explained that the group is meant to put more pressure on other elected officials who have the capacity to bring renovations and introduce new services to the area.
“It became evident to the (team) we developed that the region was truly, vastly underserved by the county in many ways, especially in terms of health, welfare, senior care, and a dedicated community facility,” Brown said.
He explained that Poolesville could combine two community projects to benefit the community.
“The current Poolesville High School has 17 different build sections all pieced together. There will be huge savings by integrating the various community needs into one structure,” Brown said.
Having community programs all centrally located is not expected to be a distraction to students, according to the Fair Access Committee.
“I share some concerns about sharing a facility with police, but in this increased school-security era, I’m okay with working with our partners at Montgomery County Police to make sure the office is functional and non-imposing to students,” Brown said.
The high school itself needs revitalization desperately, according to Kevin Schramm, the PTA liaison for the Fair Access Committee. Poolesville High School is nearly 70 years old and one of the oldest in the county school system.
Schramm listed nearly 40 structural or security issues with the high school. Problems include electrical wiring that is not up to building codes, inadequate shelter for weather emergencies, areas that are not ADA-compliant and controlled areas of asbestos.
Over the years, Poolesville had been scheduled for renovations, but starting in 2001, the school was bumped down the list of facilities in need of construction. It was then removed from the list entirely, according to the report.
“The justification time and again has been ‘limited funding’; however, for almost 20 years, school system officials have known that the school needs to be modernized,” the committee said.
The report noted that smaller, targeted renovations of the school will not revitalize it and that Poolesville High School needs to be totally rebuilt.
However, building in the area comes with its own issues. The high school is in the middle of an agricultural reserve, which was created about 40 years ago and is meant to preserve open space.
“We value the agricultural reserve and the policies that established it, (but) our needs will never be able to compete with the demands resulting from growth that affect other regions of the county,” Schramm said.
The Fair Access Committee has looked to other projects for cues about what they would like to see in their own community. The group modeled the expansion after similar work completed in White Oak that would include conference rooms, a kitchen, exercise rooms and storage among other amenities. They propose a community center of about 15,000 square feet.
A wellness center and a clinic within the community center are also on the list of suggested improvements. These would allow residents of the community and students of the high school to access medical and mental healthcare, the committee noted. The report indicated that the Poolesville community lacks access to reliable healthcare mostly due to distance.
“Of the residents requiring frequent medical visits—many do not own a car, cannot afford a car or are unable to drive because of health issues,” it said.
Moreover, the report indicated, a health clinic centrally located in the community could be beneficial for the whole area. The plan outlined a need for the wellness center to be staffed with medical personnel that can give health advice and refer patients to primary care doctors as needed. The overall goal and message is to create a center for everyone in the community to use, including younger and older residents alike.
“A high school is probably the greatest capital expenditure that a community will make,” said Schramm. “So why shouldn’t it serve everyone, from childcare to senior citizens?”