Saturday, August 6, 2011

Three Things You Should Know about MCPS & Rock Creek Hills Park – Special 100 Days Edition!

[An earlier version of this appeared on July 22nd; those familiar with it may wish to scroll down to item 3 below.]

100 days ago, the Montgomery County Board of Education proclaimed that they would take the site of Rock Creek Hills Park to build a middle school.

Why didn't Montgomery County Public Schools work with our County's Parks & Planning Commission to find a site for the new middle school that our County's children deserve – one that would provide parity with Westland? Why did MCPS instead use a deeply flawed and secretive process whose outcome calls for the destruction of a cherished community resource in order to expensively cram an inadequate school onto a deficient site?

3 things you should know about MCPS and Rock Creek Hills Park:

1. Site selection appears to have been illegal.

The Montgomery County Board of Education did not consult with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission before their April 28th proclamation that they would take the site of Rock Creek Hills Park to build a middle school, in apparent violation of §4-116 of the Maryland Education Act, which states: "(a) (1) If there is a commission or agency with legal responsibility for county planning for land use, the county board [of Education] shall: (i) Consult with the commission or agency; and (ii) Ask its advice in choosing land for a school site."

2. MCPS staff have repeatedly mischaracterized the site.

For example, in a May 26 letter: "Kensington Junior High School was closed in 1979 and the property transferred to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission for redevelopment as the park that exists today." At a July 11 briefing: "That was a former school site. It was the former home of Kensington Junior High School, which was closed in 1979 because of declining enrollment, ultimately passed into the M-NCPPC, and into a park."

Such claims are not accurate. In fact, the "former home of Kensington Junior High School" included what is today the location of the Kensington Park retirement community, which provides independent living, assisted living, and Alzheimer's care to 200 seniors. When the KJH site was broken up, more than eight acres were deeded to the Housing Opportunities Commission, who financed with tax-exempt bonds the construction of the senior housing, which stands on much of the "footprint" of the former school. This took about a third of the acreage; took the road access to the North; and severed what had been a through North-South road – all rendering the remainder, Rock Creek Hills Park, stunningly deficient as a potential middle school site.

3. Midway through the "feasibility study", MCPS changed the rules.

Residents of Rock Creek Hills have been participating in ongoing MCPS "feasibility study" meetings in good faith, to try to minimize the harm done if a middle school complex is to "obliterate" the small park. At the 2nd and 3rd meetings of the "facility advisory committee", an MCPS official presided, as Sarah Gantz reported in the Gazette, as "... the group voted to eliminate four of the seven total options, including all three original designs." Then, at the 4th meeting, the same official announced: "This is not a formal committee. We call it a committee but it's really nothing more than a work session. ... So we really can't vote on anything ... because we don't have a committee." Why the change of rules, mid-stream? Was voting forbidden midway through the feasibility study because the process highlights site deficiencies? Consider:

1. MCPS's lawyers have claimed that site selection has not yet occurred. Sort of like arguing about what the meaning of "is" is. Yes, lawyers get paid to write stuff like that, but come on, let's not pretend that MCPS has not picked a site.
2. Aerial photographs are available.
3. Recently-completed MCPS feasibility studies (Farquhar, Wheaton) cite facility advisory committee endorsements & preferences, which would not have been possible if those committees had been barred from voting. So, the new rules for the B-CC middle school #2 feasibility study are a departure from how other recent feasibility studies have been run.

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