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Votes

This Land Is Our Land

Next steps not certain in ongoing Brickyard controversy, but Board of Education makes clear the land belongs to the school system.

— With a resolution Monday night, Feb. 25, the Montgomery County Board of Education made clear what it already thought it had made clear.

The Board of Education voted unanimously Monday, Feb. 25, that Resolution 138-11 authorizing the land agreement with Montgomery County for construction of ball fields at the future Brickyard Road Middle School site “is of no force and effect,” according to Board of Education documents.

“The board wishes to resolve any perceived ambiguity and clarify the status of Resolution 138-11,” according to the documents.

This resolution is “to ensure that it is clear that the board lease with Montgomery County is cancelled and is no longer in effect,” said Superintendent Joshua P. Starr. “At this point, no entity but Montgomery County Public Schools has right to be on the property.”

“Just to be abundantly clear. This property belongs to the Montgomery County Board of Education. There is no lease with anyone,” said Board of Education member Patricia O’Neill.

“This is a future school site,” said O’Neill. “Clear?”

“That is very clear,” said Board President Christopher S. Barclay.

Next steps for the 20-acre property on Brickyard Road are uncertain.

At the board meeting Monday, Sophia Maravell, director of Brickyard Educational Farm, testified along with two other supporters.

She asked the Board of Education to “open the Brickyard Road School site for competitive proposals so that the Brickyard Educational Farm proposal can be seriously considered,” she said.

She asked the board to open the process “so the land does not remain unattended and prone to soil degradation this spring. The possibilities of serving Montgomery County Public School students on this land are enormous and within our reach,” Maravell said.

“While there are no walls in this classroom, there are infinite possibilities,” testified Elizabeth Levien, a teacher at Blair High School. She said 67 Montgomery County schools are located within 10 miles of the farm.

“Take advantage of this wonderful treasure we have in our backyard,” testified Patrick Detzner. “Please, make the best use of this.”

SCHOOL BOARD security officers locked some of the gates to Nick Maravell’s Organic Farm and his daughter’s Brickyard Education Farm on Brickyard Road last Tuesday, Feb. 19.

“As you may be aware, Mr. Maravell has no right to be on the property. On. Aug. 17 he was sent a letter saying he could access the property only to harvest existing crops. On Sept. 21, he was told that he and all of his equipment needed to be off the property as of the end of December,” said Dana Tofig, public information officer for MCPS.

“Security and maintenance personnel arrived [Feb. 19] to inspect the property, which belongs to the Board of Education and is not leased to anyone at this point. The staff was not able to access the property because locks had been placed on the gates by Mr. Maravell. Our staff removed the locks, inspected the property and put on our own locks,” Tofig said.

That night, the Board of Education held a special work session to announce that Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett wrote a letter to the board that “the county has decided not to proceed with the development of any recreational facilities on the site.”

The School Board accepted the surrender of the lease, declared the lease rescinded and of no force and effect.

Leggett issued a press release that day.

“I today wrote to the Montgomery County Public Schools to inform them we are terminating our sublease with them to use the 20 acres of public land on Brickyard Road to construct soccer fields for County kids.

“I strongly believe public land should be used for public purposes, not for private commercial gain. Montgomery County families need more soccer fields, especially Down County. Under the Potomac Master Plan, this tract was specifically mentioned to be used for recreational uses and ballfields, if not used for a school. The sublease would have fulfilled that.

“I want to thank the hundreds of people who supported this project, including individuals on Brickyard Road itself. I want to thank Montgomery Soccer, Inc., our would-be-partner in this valuable public-private partnership, for caring so deeply about finding places for kids to develop themselves, physically and mentally.

“I will continue my support for finding other options to expand ballfields in the County and to uphold the public interest of Montgomery families,” wrote Leggett.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY Circuit Court Judge Robert A. Greenberg was expected to rule this week on the legality of the School Board’s lease of the 20-acre property to the county for sublease to Montgomery Soccer Inc. for soccer fields.

Nearly two years ago in March 2011, Nick Maravell, neighbors and civic organizations in Potomac learned that Leggett had already decided to take control of the 20-acre school property on Brickyard Road to turn it over to a private organization for development into soccer fields, which county officials say were desperately needed. The Board of Education voted with a few days notice to lease the property to the county for that purpose.

Nick Maravell had leased the 20-acre site from the Montgomery County School Board for more than 30 years, running an organic farm, which produces heirloom GMO-free corn, and soybean seed. More recently, his daughter, Sophia Maravell has run the Brickyard Educational Farm on the site as well, bringing in local school children to learn about farming.

Montgomery County Council held a town meeting in November at the Potomac Community Center, and advocated that the County Executive and Board of Education reconsider.

“The way this matter has unfolded has been ugly and costly to everyone involved,” five councilmembers wrote in a letter to Leggett and Board of Education President Shirley Brandman. “We do not think this result is necessary or inevitable.”

George Leventhal (D-at large) wrote a letter of his own. “This turmoil has not only tainted our constituents’ opinion of representative government, but it has also completely shut down communication,” he said.