County planning staff has come out against a recommendation to build a new Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster middle school at Rock Creek Hills Park in Kensington.
The opinion rejects the findings of a site selection advisory committee, which in March set forth the park as the best publicly-owned site for the new school in the overcrowded cluster. The recommendation followed a revised site selection process, which was re-convened after an initial site selection process last year drew fire from neighbors and officials who questioned MCPS's transparency and civic engagement.
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr added his stamp of approval to the recommendation last month. But the proposal to build a school at Rock Creek Hills Park has run into stiff opposition from some community members, and Montgomery County Planning Board chair Francoise Carrier has argued that citing a school is not a worthy reason to do away with park land.
In an April 2 staff recommendation, planners argued that Montgomery County Public Schools should pursue private sites for the new school, or consider Lynnbrook Park and the former Lynnbrook Elementary School in Bethesda or the former Montgomery Hills Junior High School site in Silver Spring.
The staff report also rejected the site selection committee’s alternate site proposal – North Chevy Chase Local Park. The loss of playing fields at North Chevy Chase and Rock Creek Hills would pose a “significant loss of recreation opportunities, in addition to the environmental costs associated with loss of forest,” the report read.
“Staff has premised its analysis of public properties examined by the MCPS site selection committee on the idea, articulated in the Chair letter of December 22, 2011 to Board of Education President Brandman, that “parks should not be made available for non-park purposes except in extraordinary circumstances.” This notion established the foundation of staff’s responses to the committee’s report. Neither response reflexively opposes the use of parkland for the new middle school,” the report read.
The staff recommendation comes ahead of an advisory review for the new middle school site, which is set to go before the Planning Board Monday, April 9, at 5 p.m. For more information about the hearing, visit the Park and Planning website.