To the Editor:
Two weeks ago I attended a meeting of the Potomac Elementary School PTA and other concerned residents of Potomac. The topic of the meeting was the long-awaited modernization of Potomac Elementary School (PES). Four community meetings had already been held to obtain community feedback on the design options under consideration by the school construction division of the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). Then two more community meetings were suddenly added to the meeting roster in order to obtain feedback on a new proposal — locating the new PES on the Brickyard Road school site.
History and tradition alone would urge keeping PES at its current location. The Potomac Village goes back into the 19th century, with the elementary school being a force in the community for over 90 years. Although the current school dates from the 1960s, its location has been a fundamental fixture of the village’s footprint for many decades.
Smart Growth dictates that density and public services should be clustered and focused together. Facilities such as stores, libraries and schools — especially elementary schools — belong in close proximity. People with children at PES do their errands in the village after dropping children at the school, on their way to pick up kids after school, and as they come and go from volunteering at the school. Its location is part of the social and commercial fabric of the village.
At the present location, the children can take walkable field trips to the library. With more sidewalks coming to the town center, the current location is perfect for a Safe Routes to School program to encourage more children to walk and bike to school. And parking! When there are big school events and overflow parking, the lot at the church next door and along the sides of Gary Road provide needed excess capacity.
The current location can be reached by public transit, being only a one block walk from the T2 MetroBus stop. River Road already has turning lanes for traffic entering the school, and the proposed rebuild options call for a second entrance/exit which would certainly improve traffic conditions.
The current location (see the map at http://gis.mcpsmd.org/ServiceAreaMaps/PotomacES.pdf)
is highly rational when you look at a map of the area served by PES. Most of the children come from the area out River Road to the west of the Village. The Brickyard location couldn’t be further removed from the majority of these families, and would increase the travel time for many children attending the school, especially during the morning rush hour. Potomac Village is already a bottleneck during rush hour and would become worse with lines of school buses stacked up at the traffic lights in the village center. Using the Brickyard site would also require a much larger parking lot, the widening of Brickyard Road and the construction of additional turning lanes. These three requirements would boost construction costs and probably push back the timeline for building.
Officials from MCPS acknowledged that the only advantage to relocating PES to the Brickyard site is that the children would be able to continue at the present school while the new school was under construction rather than being bused to a holding school during the year and a half that the modernization would require. Since this situation is endured by all MCPS students when their schools undergo modernization, sparing PES students the temporary inconvenience in order to create a school in a permanently inconvenient location makes no sense at all.
Finally, common sense dictates not moving PES to the Brickyard site because the Brickyard site is sized for a middle school. Given the population growth that our elected officials are forecasting and promoting, it is entirely possible that later in the current century the Churchill cluster will need an additional middle school. If the current PES site is “surplused” and put to another use, and the Brickyard site is encumbered by an elementary school, our options for future educational facilities growth will be severely restricted. Keeping PES at its present site gives us greater flexibility and resources to meet future needs.
I suggest that the Montgomery County Board of Education return to the status quo and resume leasing the Brickyard school site for agriculture and related education. For the past 30-plus years, this land has been operated as an organic farm. Recently, the Brickyard Educational Farm (brickyardeducationalfarm.org.) added an educational component that has been missing from our standard K-12 curriculum — teaching children about where our food comes from and how it is produced. In the short time it was up and running, the farm had more than 600 children visit on field trips to learn and gain hands-on experience. If it is permitted to resume its work, the Brickyard Educational Farm will provide the perfect setting for young people to learn about a range of topics, including soil, water, plants, composting, insects, seed saving, sustainable agriculture, organic food production, health, and the interconnections between them. This land could be so well used and benefit so many thousands of young students. We can only hope that those in charge of our educational system will have the vision to enable this remarkable group of young educators to continue and expand on their work. If the Brickyard Educational Farm continues to steward the land until such time as it is needed for a middle school, Montgomery County will be a better place for one and all.
Potomac residents who wish to send their own comments on the proposed modernization of the elementary school should email their thoughts to James_R_Tokar@mcpsmd.org.