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Votes

School Site Switch-A-Roo

Superintendent proposes a different alternative for land owned by school board.

A new school may be built on Kendale Road, in lieu of proposed modernizations to Seven Locks Elementary under a proposal made yesterday by Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry Weast.

Weast recommends that the schools turn the Brickyard Road site over to the county for affordable housing. The Brickyard site was bought in 1973 for use as a middle school. Weast says that it will not be needed for a middle school in the foreseeable future.

The Board of Education won’t make any decisions until after a March 3 public hearing and the Board’s March 22 meeting.

In October, County Executive Doug Duncan (D) asked the Board of Education, via letters sent to Weast, to declare surplus three pieces of land owned by the schools with an eye toward using them to build affordable housing.

Two of these three parcels are in Potomac, a 20-acre piece on Brickyard Road and a 10-acre parcel on Kendale Road. Also requested was a 1.75-acre parcel on Edson Lane abutting Tilden Middle School in Bethesda.

Weast presented his recommendations to the Board of Education on Feb. 23, and they included an option which was not envisioned by the County:

Build a new school on Kendale Road, and move the students from Seven Locks Elementary to it. Then give the Seven Locks site to the county for workforce housing.

“Kendale is better located for [an elementary school for] safety and security reasons,” Weast said. “The place where Seven Locks is now is better suited to workforce housing.”

The Kendale site is not on a main road. Seven Locks is located on the corner of Seven Locks Road and Bradley Boulevard. It is 9.98 acres.

The intersection is subject to heavy traffic, and there are no sidewalks there, pointed out Board member Pat O’Neill (Dist. 3) who said she goes past the area several times per week. “It’s really, geographically, a nightmare,” she said.

Currently, Seven Locks Elementary is scheduled to have a 10-room addition, and new gymnasium, and a complete modernization performed within the next few years.

Then, approximately 200 students from Potomac Elementary would be shifted to the new school in order to relieve overcrowding at Potomac Elementary.

If the plan goes according to schedule, the new school would be built by 2007, the same year that the Seven Locks expansion is scheduled to be complete.

“The relief to Potomac would be consistent,” said Richard Hawes, of Montgomery County Public Schools.

Hawes explained that a deal could be made with a developer. If a developer would be willing to build the school at the Kendale site, that same developer would be allowed to develop the Seven Locks site.

The capacity for Potomac’s two middle schools, Hoover and Cabin John, totals 1,902, said Joe Lavorgna, director of the Department of Planning and Capital Programming for the schools. The projected enrollment in both schools in 2020 is 1,950, Lavorgna said, meaning the area is unlikely to need a new middle school at Brickyard Road.

“To build another middle school would require a much greater deficit,” Lavorgna said. “There just doesn’t seem to be enough enrollment to build another $30 million middle school.”

The Edson Lane site, which Weast also recommends be turned over for affordable housing, had been intended for use as a back entrance to Tilden Middle School. The construction of a traffic light has removed the need for the other entrance.

The School Board wants to explore the options in more depth before making a decision. For example, enrollment projections do not include the possibility of more students being added if the workforce, or affordable, housing is built. “If this is developed as workforce housing, these are young people [moving in], and probably fertile,” O’Neill said.

Before doing anything, the Board would seek to protect its interests. Boards of Education are prohibited by state law from selling property; they may only transfer the property to the County Government.

The county could conceivably do what it wants with the land, and not give the Board anything in exchange.

Therefore, before declaring any of the land surplus, the Board would want an Memorandum of Understanding that it will surplus the sites, contingent upon leveraging them. The Board could get a new school out of the deal, or other benefits. The value of the land on Brickyard Road and Edson Lane would either be given to the Board in cash or credits toward the construction of other school facilities.

“We would never move forward on this without a Memorandum of Understanding,” said Sharon Cox, (At Large) president of the Board.