New Process, Same Result for Rock Creek Hills
The site-selection committee for the new Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster middle school chose Rock Creek Hills Park over North Chevy Chase Park as the committee's recommended location for the new school, should the school be built on public land.
The soccer fields of Rock Creek Hills Park just might end up being the ground that gives when it comes time to build the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster’s new middle school, scheduled to open in 2017.
At a site-selection committee meeting on Wednesday night, the committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of recommending that the new school be built at Rock Creek Hills Park, rather than at North Chevy Chase Park, if the school is to be built on publicly owned land.
Last year, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to move forward with a feasibility study for the school at the same park, and designs for the school were already underway when Superintendent Joshua Starr called for a re-do of the site-selection process, citing the need for more transparency.
Three other sites—all privately owned—are still under consideration for the new middle school, but their locations have not yet been disclosed, in order to preserve the ability of Montgomery County Public Schools to negotiate a purchase price should one of them be chosen.
Before the vote on Wednesday, residents took turns behind the microphone stating reasons why the planned school should not be located in one or the other—or, in some cases, either—of the parks.
For starters, the hilly topography of Rock Creek Hills Park would make the park a more expensive site to build on, said John Robinson, president of the Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association.
And, with many local residents using Rock Creek Hills Park for recreational purposes, the park is “probably one of the most valuable parks” in Montgomery County, local resident John Saber told Patch.
Many residents commented on the fact that siting a school in Rock Creek Hills Park—on the eastern end of the cluster in Kensington—could result in a less-diverse student body both at the new school and at Westland Middle School, which is currently the only middle school in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster.
Siting the new school closer to the center of the cluster would ensure that its students would be of more diverse backgrounds, they added.
Residents near North Chevy Chase Park—on Jones Bridge Road in Chevy Chase—spoke out against the construction of a new middle school in their neighborhood, noting concerns about traffic congestion near the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Jones Bridge Road, and about siting a school near the National Institutes of Health, which one resident described as a “potential terrorist site.”
Other residents strongly urged the site-selection committee to recommend neither of the public parks, and to recommend the purchase of a private site instead, so that public land need not be lost.
Many even boo-ed when site-selection committee member Laurie Rosen, representing the Westland Middle School PTA, suggested that building a school on a public park could be thought of as “taking one public good and replacing it with another public good,” and that the school could become a "great community gathering (place)."
When it came time for the final vote on which public park to recommend over the other, the issue of transparency—which has plagued the site-selection committee throughout the process—was raised by site-selection committee member Ken Strickland of the Chevy Chase Valley Citizens association.
But, the idea of non-anonymous voting was not well-received by most committee members, particularly since the rules governing the committee do not call for it, pointed out committee member Bill Farley of the Town of Somerset.
Committee members voted with secret ballots.
Rock Creek Hills Park is the former site of the now-closed Kensington Junior High School. After that school was shuttered, the park was transferred to the Park and Planning Commission with the caveat that MCPS could reclaim the site if ever it needed space for a school in the area, Patch reported last fall.