Friday, May 6, 2011

"Mr. Isiah Leggett:"

Email from Jill Gallagher to County Executive Isiah Leggett, May 4, 2011:

Mr. Isiah Leggett:

I am writing to urge you to delay the start of a feasibility study that is to be performed on Rock Creek Hills Local Park for possible use as a middle school in the BCC cluster, due to the lack of input from the citizens of this Kensington community and the questionable process employed by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to determine the location of a new middle school for this cluster.

The MCPS Site Selection Committee was comprised of many individuals, though none of them came from either of the two communities identified as potential middle school sites. There were representatives from just three municipalities: Chevy Chase, Friendship Heights and Somerset. Where did they choose to put the middle school? Silver Spring or Kensington.

Based on the removal of sites located in the proximity of those communities (Rollingwood ES, Leland LP, Norwood, N. Chevy Chase LP), it appears that they were given the opportunity to defend their interests at the expense of others.

The Kensington community was given no opportunity to gather information or voice our concerns before the BOE’s last-minute, sleight-of-hand on April 28 allowed our neighborhood park to become the primary target for this middle school. The Rosemary Hills community had well over a month to prepare for this hearing. Kensington had FOUR hours.

Noting the flawed nature of the process, BOE member Mike Durso of Silver Spring (District 5), voted against moving forward with the feasibility study. In a May 4 Gazette article he states, "I didn't see a lot of difference between the shift from Rosemary Hills to Rock Creek Hills," he said. "They appeared to me to have even less time to react and respond than the Rosemary Hills people."

Since last Thursday, our community is in turmoil, largely due to a lack of information and the feeling that we have been hoodwinked. In your letter to the BOE, dated April 28, you urged MCPS “to undertake an aggressive community and public input process to ensure that resident concerns are discussed and addressed before action is taken.” I appreciate your acknowledgement that public input is vital to these procedures, but I am dubious about whether this will actually occur, given the secretive nature of the site selection process.

In addition, I have listed a few of my concerns about the use of Rock Creek Hills Local Park (RCH Local Park) as the future site of “Middle School #2”:

The impact on our neighborhood and way of life will be considerable. The only entrance/exit to the new school will be on neighborhood streets, two of which have sidewalks. There is the potential for upwards of 30 buses per day traveling our streets, in addition to the cars who take and pick-up students from school. I understand the car line at Westland Middle extends out of the school driveway and onto Massachusetts Avenue each day. In addition, when the RCH Park site housed Kensington Junior High School, there was no retirement community on the site. There are 200 residents and dozens of employees at the Kensington Park Retirement Community, who are part of our neighborhood now, and who park on neighborhood streets.

The loss of green space and regulation soccer fields in this part of the county will be devastating. A 2005 Land Use Study by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission projected a need by 2020 for 20 additional multi-purpose rectangular fields in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area to serve citizens aged 10-65+. Furthermore, the report states, Field conversions should not be made, however, without careful analysis and consultations with user groups.” RCH Local Park has two such fields, which are used nearly every day in the spring and fall, and on weekends from morning to night, by people from all over the county.

MCPS has allowed this issue to reach crisis stage, and I’m not sure that the best long-range planning occurs in a “crisis.” Why is there just one location being studied? What if Rock Creek Hills Local Park isn’t feasible? There should be at least one other, alternate site considered in order to make sure that our cluster finds a suitable site that makes the most sense in the long-term. In my opinion, the location of Westland Middle School at the western edge of our cluster is a prime example of poor planning.

Again, Mr. Leggett, I implore you to step in to make this right. I have two children in Montgomery County public schools, so I am well aware of the numerous struggles that we are encountering on a daily basis, and have seen first-hand (for many years) the need for school construction. However, the way this process has been handled is, to put it mildly, unjust and unfair. I expect honest, democratic representation from my elected officials. Can you make sure this happens?


Jill Gallagher

9819 Haverhill Drive

Kensington, Md. 20895

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