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BOE Approves Rock Creek Hills Park As New School Site

Approval follows months of debate over use of the Kensington park for a school site.

Following months of controversy, the Board of Education Tuesday approved Rock Creek Hills Local Park in Kensington as the site for a new middle school in the cramped Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster.

Both a site selection committee and Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr recommended locating the new school at the Kensington park. The site of a former junior high school, the school system has the right to reclaim the property from the county parks department, which operates the site.

The site selection committee, convened by the school system and comprised of MCPS, park and planning staff as well as a group of community stakeholders, evaluated 13 private and 25 public sites, some of them public parks. The committee was reconvened in January after an initial site selection process last year that drew fire from neighbors and officials who questioned MCPS's transparency and civic engagement.

Rock Creek Hills Local Park emerged for a second time as the committee’s top school site in March, but the recommendation ran into stiff opposition from some community members, who argued the park provides important recreational opportunities for the community and wouldn’t serve as an adequate school site.

The site recommendation was also met with skepticism by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. This month, planning staff came out in opposition of building a school at that site, in part based on an opinion by Planning Board Chairwoman Francoise Carrier that “parks should not be made available for non-park purposes except in extraordinary circumstances.”

And at an April 9 advisory review hearing, the Planning Board in Bethesda, which Carrier said would be "less damaging" to the park system.

Planning staff also questioned MCPS' site selection process, saying it was too rushed for all sites to be given appropriate consideration.

Is Rock Creek Hills Local Park the best location for a new Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster middle school? What do you think about the school system's site selection process? Tell us in the comments.

Aileen Worthington April 19, 2012 at 12:53 PM
"I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees...." And right now this Lorax is delighted to live in DC where we are not only preserving trees but planting new ones. Meanwhile Maryland and Montgomery County officials at various levels seem intent on destroying trees, open space and recreational facilities in the Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Kensington and Silver Spring areas. The tree-lined section of the Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring will be destroyed to accommodate the Purple Line. Acres of mature trees will be clear-cut. And now, not very far from this catastrophe, additional parkland and recreational facilities will be destroyed for a new middle school. I realize, of course, that a new middle school is needed. But is it really necessary to destroy more of the limited open space in this area of Montgomery County to meet an artificial deadline?
Anne Goodwin April 20, 2012 at 12:34 AM
The author states the current Rock Creek Hills Park as "The site of a former junior high school". This is incorrect. Kensington Junior High School was located on the site of the current nursing home. I believe other sites would be more appropriate for a junior high, namely, the Lynnbrook property and the North Chevy Chase park. But the Board seems hell-bent on building the school at Rock Creek Hills Park. Why? I also question the construction of the Purple Line, which will cost a small fortune, is projected to have low ridership, and has been characterized as a money losing proposition. Are developers so politically and financially connected to these projects that they MUST go through? Do we really need a light rail? Waste of money!
Brian April 20, 2012 at 01:10 AM
This statement is not accurate. As shown in arial photos only a relatively small portion of the former school was located on the piece of the site transferred to the retirement home. The remaining site is several acres larger than than Lynnbrook Park site making RCH a much more suitable location.
Alvaro Puig April 20, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Rock Creek Hills Park has 30% more buildable acreage than Lynnbrook. Westland is more than 50% over capacity today. It will be worse by 2017 when the new middle school is scheduled to open. I love trees and parks but 12 and 13 year old boys and girls shouldn't have to learn in a facility that is way too crowded so that a few neighbors can enjoy the park a few months a year. Let's be real - no one is at RCH park between October and April. How do I know? I live just a few blocks away.
David April 20, 2012 at 02:34 PM
This is such a tired refrain. Yes, part of the overall site is now part of Kensington Park Retirement Community. Yes, the overall site is smaller than it once was when Kensington Junior High was there. This was all known when the two site selections conducted. I think it is pretty clear why RCH has been selected twice. The reclaim right attached to RCH Park when it was given back to the county is a major factor, especially given the tussle between Park & Planning and MCPS and the difficulty of acquiring suitable private land in the area. The SSC didn't agree that Lynbrook is more suitable.
David April 20, 2012 at 02:51 PM
I tend to agree. I live a few blocks away as well and often note the empty nature of the park regradless of the season. Does that mean residents don't use it? No. Does that mean I want it to go away? No. But I know there will still be fields there to play and practice on, tennis courts (undoubtedly better than the cracked surface there now) to use, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, etc. I can live without a small pavillion and a roller hockey rink used sparingly by relatively small numbers of people if it means the children of this cluster have a proper classroom environment in which to learn. And lest I sound "indifferent to the elderly," Barbara Duncan from Kensington Park RC seemed pretty excited about the possibilities of establishing interactive programs between students and elderly residents when we spoke with her.
Brian April 20, 2012 at 06:59 PM
It's nice to hear from members of the RCH neighborhood that are focused on the long term greater good of the overall B-CC community. I would encourage you to attend the next RCHCA meeting as I understand the association will be discussing litigation and other possible measures to undermine the Board of Education and Superintendent. These frivolous actions would do nothing more than delay the process and hurt the students impacted.
David April 22, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Alvaro, No one is debating the need for a school, but building in parks should be avoided. Using the Lynnbrook sites asks the local park to co-locate next to a school. Little or no change there… Building in the RCH Local park is a very different story. FYI, as far as the comparative usage of the parks, the Lynnbrook Local Park has fewer permits on record for 2011 according Recreation Dept records. That would seem to be the best site to minimize the loss of recreational land. Working with Parks and Planning to really study the Lynnbrook sites might be the fastest way for MCPS to get their school.
Brian April 23, 2012 at 01:38 PM
A school located at Lynnbrook would not be a colocated park situation, the park would no longer exist and the site would be 100% school property. The combined area of the existing MCPS property and park property is significantly less than that of RCH. The usage numbers are deceiving as RCH allows more permits than Lynnbrook and has multiple fields due to its significantly larger size. Lynnbrook is used almost daily during the school year by B-CC high school athletes as a satellite practice facility and is used during the spring, summer and fall for softball and soccer leagues. At this point the fastest way to a new school is RCH as the feasibility study has already been completed and the Planning board has confirmed the MCPS reclamation right.
Sharon Cranford April 23, 2012 at 03:09 PM
As a graduate of the old Kensington Junior High School (class of 1961), I encourage the community to embrace the rebuilding of a middle school at the KJH site. KJH was truly our neighborhood school. Many of us walked down Saul Road from our homes in Rock Creek Highlands and up the hill to KJH each day. We had terrific teachers, including the legendary Richard Abell who taught civics. The new school can reinvigorate the community, enhance property values, provide a community center which you do not have, and most importantly, benefit the school-aged children in the overcrowded B-CC cluster.
David April 26, 2012 at 12:25 AM
I'm sure the school might invigorate the RCH hills neighborhood, but at what cost for the county. The legions of soccer players in the down county will lose a scarce resource and MCPS will continue to sit on an aging property in a centrally located neighborhood. At some point, they ask you and I to pay to renovate that building. I don't live in either of these neighborhoods, but I do live in the MoCo. We have to expect more of our pubic school system and its BOE. Their refusal to sit at the table with The Planning Board reeks of fear and lack of confidence.
David April 26, 2012 at 01:35 AM
Too many Davids. But let's remember why we are here. MCPS gave up KJH which allowed the park to exist in the first place. Indeed, RCH was designed for a school. So, MCPS gives up the property with a reclaim right thinking they may need it in the future. The future is now. So how is that unreasonable? MCPS has said they will likely need Lynnbrook for an elementary school. Why is that unreasonable? MCPS obviously could have handled some of this better, but let's not paint Parks and Planning as some unbiased entity without its own agenda. Given the response of Parks and Planning why would MCPS ever give up anything even with a reclaim right?
lena April 27, 2012 at 11:31 AM
Parks and Planning acknowledged the reclaim right but offered their lesser used park , while asking for a serious discussion with MCPS that would recognize that parks and schools are important to MC residents. Sounds like cooperation and thoughtful decision making. That’s an ‘agenda’ that I support. Saving Lynnbrook for an elementary school is a long overused excuse. The former Rollingwood ES will be available in 2016- one year before any proposed middle school would open. The 5-year lease to the Rollingwood tenant offers $100/K annual rent credits for undertaking qualified capital facility improvements. It will be a low cost conversion back to public use. Why would MCPS ever give up anything even with a reclaim right? I don’t know, maybe because they should look for cost effective solutions, work with other agencies, and make decisions that serve the whole county and not a specific neighborhood.

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