Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Dear Council Member Elrich,"

An email from David Kaplan to Montgomery County Council Member Marc Elrich:

From: David Kaplan
Date: Mon, May 2, 2011 at 11:28 PM
Subject: Lack of transparency in identification of Rock Creek Hills Park for construction of a new middle school

Dear Council Member Elrich,

This past week, I learned that the Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) ruled to construct a middle school and to commit county fiscal resources to conduct a feasibility study for Rock Creek Hills Park which is located at the intersection of Haverhill and Saul Roads in Kensington. This was the outcome of a meeting convened by the BOE where they were to approve another site in Montgomery County for construction of a middle school. However, the agenda was modified at 2:00 PM on the day of the meeting to include consideration of Rock Creek Hills Park as an alternate location; there was no attempt to communicate this change in agenda to our community.

I am writing to you to request that this decision be reconsidered and that the BOE be held accountable for ensuring that there is a transparency with respect to site selection, at each phase of the process; regardless of where the facility is constructed. All of this should be subject to a process that provides for adequate opportunities for notice and comment. The lack of transparency with which this was handled certainly impacted my respect for the BOE.

Please understand that I greatly value the need for appropriate and equitable school facilities for all students to meet the growth of Montgomery County’s student population. My kids and my wife and I all attended public schools; while I have no children of school age I do support Montgomery County’s value of placing education as a high priority. However, with the investment and use of my tax dollars, should come an opportunity for engagement as part of the decision-making process for issues that will significantly impact the quality of life in my community.

My wife and I have worked very hard during our careers to raise our kids and to afford our home. We both feel fortunate to live in the Rock Creek Hills community. We moved here because we valued the open green space and the facilities offered by Rock Creek Hills Park.

We are not alone. Have you visited the Park after school or on a weekend? The facility is used non-stop. There are two regulation size soccer fields that are constantly booked. The teams range from school kids to middle aged folks; there are women’s teams and men’s teams; the teams represent the breadth of cultural diversity that is consistent with the greater Washington, DC area. Beyond soccer, there is an exercise group of about 30 folks that meets each morning at the break of dawn, there are tennis matches, kids using the swing sets, and many folks from the area come to walk their dogs as well as seniors from the neighborhood and from the Kensington Park, the assisted living facility who are often seen walking on the paved perimeter of the park. The Park is not a benefit to just our neighborhood; there are many folks that use this park and as such should also have been considered as stakeholders and provided with an opportunity to provide feedback for the proposed use of Rock Creek Hills Park.

An open and fair process would consider many alternatives; not just pitting parks against schools. Parks and schools are both important assets to Montgomery County. I am puzzled as to why the BOE, for the sake of expediency, would pit two valuable assets against one another. In the case of Rock Creek Hills Park, I checked in with the Montgomery Parks and Recreation website to see that there are very few parks with soccer fields; no wonder they are booked constantly.

I understand that the BOE came to their conclusion because a portion of Rock Creek Hills Park had previously been occupied by a middle school; and it appears that they have some jurisdictional authority to reclaim the site for a school. I have heard from long-time residents that the school that was demolished years ago was sited such that it had minimal impact on many of the streets, but given the presence of the Kensington Park assisted living facility, I do not believe that would be possible. Further, no one knows the scope of the project, but given some of the predictions that I have read in the Post for Montgomery County and for the proposed development projects along the Connecticut Avenue corridor, it would seem that green space and a park would be even more important than it is today.

I am also concerned about the environmental impacts of a school located in Rock Creek Hills Park; site includes a stream that feeds into Rock Creek and is a watershed into the Chesapeake Bay. The flat portion of the Park is approximately 6.68 acres according to Google Earth Maps. I understand that there is also possibly another acre on a lower level that could be used for parking. This amount of acreage is far less than the approximately 20 acres that the BOE stated was required for a school that would be of such a scale that it would be suitable to meet the expanded student population. Furthermore, I understand that ideally, all schools should provide equitable educational facilities. I do not believe this would be possible on such limited acreage.

Further, building another extensive structure and parking area adjacent to a major watershed would most likely exacerbate environmental watershed issues for the Creek and Bay. There is wildlife that surrounds Rock Creek Hills Park, as well. Did you know that there is a beaver colony in the stream? It relocated from the Beach Drive stream when construction for the waterline commenced. Where will the beavers, birds, fox and other animals go when a school is constructed?

Access, traffic and parking to the site are also serious issues. At present, access is an issue just with the soccer fields in use. Parking overflows into the local streets and becomes a hazard for emergency vehicles, as well as for normal traffic. The access roads are small residential ones, with NO neighborhood sidewalks (except a few around the park) and the amount of traffic a middle school would generate would overwhelm the community streets.

I am also concerned about air and noise pollution. Rock Creek Hills Park is in close vicinity to both Connecticut Avenue and the Beltway. We often have significant intrusion of traffic noise into the park area under favorable conditions. We can hear the noise, we can’t see the pollution, but they are inseparable. Further, I am concerned about the pollution associated with school buses (diesel); this was brought to my attention the other night as I watched the BOE meeting on my computer. An expert who testified on behalf of the other site mentioned that Montgomery County does not have a policy of school bus idling; I had never thought about that but can understand the importance of the expert’s testimony. Why was that important for another community park, but not for my community?

While I understand that there is NOW a need to move quickly to build a middle school, I seriously question the process that is being undertaken. Why aren’t we recognizing the value of schools, green space, and working toward enhancing all aspects of life in Montgomery County? Why are our green resources (parks, tax dollars) being used in a manner that is inconsistent with what we as citizens have come to expect of our government?

Please visit Rock Creek Hills Park this weekend to experience the community at large that enjoys the park together. Then consider where all these people will go if this site is lost at the expense of building a school on a site that will not likely be of adequate size.

I leave you with one last thought….if this was your neighborhood park, your weekend sport escape, your green space, your street…..would you find it appropriate to have a group of elected officials define its destiny without consideration of other options or your ideas? It really boils down to the Golden Rule….”Do unto others as you would have done to you”….can anyone on the Montgomery County government honestly say that they would want this for themselves, their families, their friends, their community?

Please provide direction for the Montgomery County Board of Education to redesign the process so that there is more transparency, creativity, and consideration of the residents of Montgomery County in the decision and implementation process. This should be done with a more holistic approach….we need parks AND schools. The proposed feasibility study is a waste of tax payers money, given the mere size of the land available for construction.

Thank you for your consideration,
David T. Kaplan, Ph.D.
3615 Saul Road
Kensington, MD 20895

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent letter. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this.

Mary Ann Chandler
Hilridge Drive