Friday, May 6, 2011

"Dear Council Members and Members of the Board of Education:"

An email from Ms. Lauren Itkowitz to the Montgomery County Council & the Montgomery County Board of Education, May 6, 2011:

Dear Council Members and Members of the Board of Education:

I am writing to express my shock and dismay at the manner in which a site for a new middle school within the BCC Cluster was selected and approved. Since moving to Montgomery County, I have been in awe of the political process. As a military family, we have lived in many places, but nowhere else have we seen such active participation in politics and government by so many members of the community. To witness such an important matter moved through the system with disregard for input from the affected communities and stakeholders was surprising and disheartening.

I am a strong proponent of building a new middle school on this side of our cluster. Our oldest child has one year left at North Chevy Chase before we have to make the trek to Westland. When children have such limited free time as is, the last thing they need is to spend upwards of two hours on a school bus each day. Sometime after moving into the Rock Creek Hills neighborhood we learned that the site where the Kensington Park retirement home is located was once a middle school. We have often remarked how nice it would be if it was still a school.

If that school still existed, I am doubtful that the Board of Education would have (then or now) entertained giving up part of the land in order to build a retirement home in close proximity to the school. Would anyone have thought that was a good idea or even feasible? Would anyone have thought the land could accommodate both or that it would make sense to do so? I’m unclear why now the reverse is not true. I’m surprised that the BOE voted to proceed with a feasibility study to build a new school on what is now a significantly smaller parcel of land.

I cannot imagine how a middle school, large enough to accommodate the current population of students (and the increased population expected to come to our area due to the BRAC and the Chevy Chase Lake development) would be built in such a small area. Certainly it would require losing all fields, green space and trees (and, still, might not be large enough). Certainly it would overwhelm the homes that surround it. Losing this green space would be a travesty to our community and others who come into our neighborhood in the evenings and on weekends to utilize the facilities. Further, how would we instill the importance of physical activity in our middle school children if we do not offer fields on which they can run and play?

I urge you to reconsider this matter and to look at other options that were up for consideration by the site selection committee. The final report by the committee gives very brief reasons as to why certain sites were deemed more suitable than others. It appears that sites were very quickly dismissed instead of carefully thought through. A good example is:

The North Chevy Chase Local Park, while well located within the cluster with adequate acreage, is adjacent to the Naval Medical Center. Committee members expressed concerns with locating a middle school at this location because it would exacerbate existing and future traffic congestion associated with the implementation of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). The site is also heavily wooded. In consideration of these factors, SSAC members agreed that the site should be eliminated from consideration.

Were I on the site selection committee, I would have offered this: The North Chevy Chase Park land offers the largest parcel under consideration. Obviously the largest area offers the most flexibility in terms of what can be built and offers the best opportunity to aesthetically integrate into a residential area, while also maintaining trees and green space. Further, the surrounding roads will be studied and re-engineered to accommodate the BRAC and the Purple Line and the development of Chevy Chase Lake. Locating a new school there would allow engineers and city planners to factor in school traffic and access considerations as part of that overall plan/design – rather than having to do the same work in a different area. Also, this area is more centrally located to the schools which will feed into it, rather than being located deeper in a residential area.

I appreciate the board’s desire to move expediently to relieve the overcrowding in our schools and to build a new middle school on this side of the BCC Cluster. However, I urge you to reconsider the available sites and to seek input from the affected communities so that we can ensure that the best possible decision is being made. I strongly believe a supportive community is imperative to the success of a school. Moving forward as planned certainly does not foster that kind of community support and involvement.

Lauren Itzkowitz
3904 Saul Road
Kensington, MD 20895
(Evan, grade 5; Anna, grade 2; Ian, age 4)

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