About 60 community members turned out for the town hall meeting on June 14 at Herbert Hoover Middle. After the long and caustic debate over the fate of Seven Locks Elementary, Wednesday night's gathering was tame and relatively unremarkable.
"Several folks thanked Council members for the work they
did to bring [the Seven Locks situation] to a successful
conclusion," said Council spokesperson Pat Lacefield. "I
daresay if we'd held the meeting a month earlier, there
would have been 600 people there instead of 60. Given that that issue was resolved, probably people who would have otherwise come to the meeting felt they'd been treated fine and decided to spend the night with their families."
“A lot of people there seemed very happy about the resolution of [Seven Locks],” said Councilmember Howard Denis (R-1). “They showed up and expressed themselves in a very positive way, so we didn't get into the issues that we thought we would get into.”
"It was pretty calm by most of our town meeting standards," said Steven Silverman (D-at large). "I think frankly people were happy there was a resolution [to the Seven Locks situation]."
"We spent a lot of time dealing with that really important issue in the community, and we had a lot of public hearings," said Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-at large).
"We may have worn out some of the residents," she added with a laugh. "A lot of people have been engaged already."
In 2004, the superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools recommended that Seven Locks Elementary be closed and the site be given to the county, which was seeking land for affordable housing. Funds for a modernization project at Seven Locks were cut and money diverted for a replacement school on Kendale Road to address overcrowding. A report by the Montgomery County Inspector General in February 2006 faulted the school system for providing misleading data about the cost of renovating Seven Locks. The school system
was also accused of misrepresenting community opinion on the matter. Community members have resoundingly opposed closure of the elementary school. In May, the Council voted unanimously to approve a plan put forth by
the School Board and amended by Denis that keeps Seven Locks open.
SANDY VOGELGESANG, leader of the Save Seven Locks
Coalition, said that she didn't encourage Seven Locks
activists to come to Wednesday night’s town hall meeting since the school’s future now appears more certain.
"If the Seven Locks issue were still up in the air, we would
have filled the room," she said.
Nonetheless, Vogelgesang said that her group’s work is far from over. The next meeting of the Save Seven Locks Coalition is 7:30-9:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 29, at Seven Locks Elementary.
“We’re glad they at least decided to keep Seven Locks, but because we've been so burned by this whole experience, the community … won't believe this story has a happy ending until we see a new modernized school at Seven
Locks,” she said. “So we have a motto of continuing vigilance, and we'll be working hard this summer to let people know where the politicians stand.”
RESIDENTS RAISED a range of concerns during the town hall meeting:
* Recreational amenities and after-school programs to address childhood obesity.
* Whether the Comsat building in Clarksburg, which was designed by renowned architect Cesar Pelli, deserves a historical designation. The building is currently scheduled for demolition.
* Rising tax assessments and whether they could force senior citizens out of Montgomery County.
* A department of aging to address the concerns of senior citizens.
* Encouragement for small business entrepreneurs so that they can afford to work and live in Montgomery County.
Six of the nine Council members attended, including George Leventhal (D-at large), Michael Subin (D-at large) and Phil Andrews (D-3).
Silverman said that town hall meetings are "always a good opportunity for people to express their views and hear directly from Councilmembers in person — not just from e-mails."