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Board Puts Off Land Decision

New school approved on Kendale, other sites to be studied.

The Board of Education has not yet declared any of its land to be surplus, but the door is still open for them to do so in the future.

In October, The County Executive asked the Board to declare three pieces of property as surplus — a 20-acre parcel on Brickyard Road, 10 acres on Kendale Road and 1.75 acres on Edson Lane.

The County would like to use these pieces of land to develop affordable housing. During earlier discussion about the land sites, the superintendent had spoken favorably about the idea of affordable housing.

Many spoke against the school considering the ultimate disposition of the land, saying the Board should only consider if it is needed for school purposes. At the most recent meeting, the Board took this advice and only discussed the school sites, not what the land might be used for.

Initially, School Superintendent Jerry Weast recommended a sort of land swap. The board would build a new school on the Kendale Road site, then move the students from Seven Locks and 150-200 from Potomac Elementary, to it. This could relieve overcrowding at Potomac and help Seven Locks students by not forcing them to go through a three-phase renovation.

The Board would attempt to leverage the value of property on the three sites, Brickyard, Edson, and the now empty Seven Locks, to get money to build the new school. By state law, the Board can not sell land, it can only give it to the county. The Board considered seeking a Memorandum of Understanding with the County that if it should give the land up, it would be compensated for the land.

At the Board’s March 22 meeting, Weast changed his mind. “I have revised my recommendation to you,” Weast said.

The board considered two resolutions at the meeting, one dealing with the Brickyard property, and the other with the Kendale and Edson sites.

THE BOARD decided unanimously to take no action on the Brickyard Road site. The superintendent had recommended that the board take no action until school staff has an opportunity to study other possible future middle school sites in the Churchill and Wootton clusters, and the feasibility of the Memorandum of Understanding.

Board member Pat O’Neill (Dist. 2) did not like that proposal. She proposed an amendment which would take the Memorandum off the table, and add the Whitman cluster into the mix. “First and foremost in this is the Middle School piece, not the disposition of the property,” O’Neill said. “Before I’m going to give up 20 acres of middle school site, I want to consider everything.”

In making his recommendation for further study, Weast mentioned the possibility that there might be another school site which could help with the overcrowding in those clusters. “There is another middle school site [in the Wootton cluster] that could be recouped,” Weast said.

Under the initially proposed resolution, Weast would have been forced to come back to the board with a recommendation in the future. O’Neill’s changes still allow the superintendent to return to the Board and recommend that the land be declared surplus, but he is not required to do so.

O’Neill also doubted the likelihood of the Board being able to leverage any value from the Brickyard property. “I also happen to think that the people in Potomac will fight this tooth and nail, and we will not see any money for years,” she said, predicting a protracted court battle. “I’m not convinced that saying good-bye Brickyard is going to get us the money right now.”

THE SEVEN LOCKS site was one resolution in two pieces. First, the Board approved an amendment to its Capital Improvements Program which calls for building a new elementary school on Kendale Road. The new school is expected to open in September of 2007. “I think it could save us approximately $2-3 million,” Weast said.

The Capital Improvements Program has yet to be approved by the County Council, and some of the funding for it, such as a hoped for $60 million in state aid is not likely to come through.

The original Program called for a three-part expansion and renovation of Seven Locks Elementary which would allow students from Potomac Elementary to be moved there in 2006 and the renovations to be complete by 2010.

Now, instead of shuffling students a new school will be built. “I also believe that doing it at the Kendale site will cause less disruption,” Weast said.

After the new school is opened, all students from Seven Locks, and 150-200 from Potomac Elementary will be shifted to it.

Weast said that if growth in the Churchill cluster were to continue, the elementary schools there could each be upgraded to accommodate more students. “You [the Board] still have title to the former Tuckerman Elementary School site,” Weast said.

That site is currently occupied by the McLean School, but the board could reclaim it if necessary.

One Board member did not like the way the discussion went. Gabe Romero (Dist. 1) said that the board was focusing too much on what it might do with the land, but had not addressed the fundamental question of whether or not the schools will need the land. “I feel that we have still not answered the question,” Romero said.

THE OTHER part of the Seven Locks deal involves assessing the values of the land at the Seven Locks site and the Edson site. “I don’t think, today, we’re taking any action that’s kissing this good-bye,” O’Neill said.

Weast said that after the new school is completed on Kendale, what is currently Seven Locks Elementary may no longer be needed, and that it could be given to the county, as long as a Memorandum of Understanding was in place to ensure that the Board get some money in return.

“The board could keep the Seven Locks site, if it determines it needs it in the future,” said Richard Hawes, of Montgomery County Schools.

School staff will use the possibility of a Memorandum of Understanding to find the value of the land. “I’m recommending that you explore a series of transactions,” Weast said.

Since the school now has an Elementary school there, and the cost of building a new school is approximately $13 million, they could use that as a reference point for the value of the land.

As an example, Weast said that if they found they could only get $2 million for the site, they would probably want to hold onto it, but if they could get $14 million, they might want to consider giving it up. “What we’re going to do is explore it,” Weast said.

The resolution to build a new school on Kendale and explore the value of the other sites passed by a 6-1 (Romero) vote.