Saturday, November 5, 2011

"A Wise and Considered Decision."


On April 28th, our Montgomery County Board of Education voted to conduct a feasibility study for a new Bethesda-Chevy Chase middle school #2, to be located on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park. Precisely half a year later, on Friday October 28th, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr released his Capital Improvement Program (CIP) recommendations, which included the construction of a middle school for 944 students, at an estimated cost of $46,485,000.00, to open in 2017, on the site of the park. No other information was available, as the feasibility study report for the project had not been made available, including in draft form.

On November 2nd, when Dr. Starr briefed the Board of Education on his CIP recommendations, he recommended that the site selection process for B-CC middle school 2 be re-opened. According to a "public announcement" posted on the MCPS website, Dr. Starr explained that:
"In their opposition to the use of Rock Creek Hills Local Park for the new middle school the community has raised concerns over the process used to select the site and the suitability of the site for a middle school. The controversy over this site has spread beyond the immediate community. At this point I am concerned that we may not have the support of the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) — that is critical to having the property transferred back to the Board of Education — and of the County Council — who we need to fund construction of the school."
Dr. Starr provided the Board with an impressively comprehensive history of the Rock Creek Hills Park site, starting in 1937! In particular, Dr. Starr reviewed funds used to develop the park in the 1990's:
"The use of Program Open Space funds was inconsistent with the reclamation terms of the transfer agreement under which the M-NCPPC took title to the property.  This was the case since use of these funds places restrictions on future public use of parks, in contradiction with the terms of the original transfer agreement."
Dr. Starr made his recommendation:
"I am recommending that a new site selection process be conducted to review all sites that were previously considered as well as other candidates that may be identified through this process. In the next few days I will be sending a memorandum to the Board of Education outlining how the site selection process would be conducted and the timeframe for the study. The new site selection process for B-CC Middle School #2 will take advantage of the M-NCPPC/MCPS Joint Working Group that is exploring ways to improve site selection procedures."

After Dr. Starr made his recommendation Wednesday night, Board members expressed support. Board President Christopher Barclay said "I think that this recommendation satisfies some real concerns that have been expressed." Board member Laura Berthiaume began her remarks by "commending the Superintendent on a wise and considered decision". In the days following, Montgomery County Council members Hans Riemer and George Leventhal expressed support, with Mr. Riemer praising Dr. Starr's decision as "a stand for integrity".

We urge the Board to accept the Superintendent's recommendation to restart site selection, and we look forward to the Superintendent's memo on the new process. We are pleased that the M-NCPPC, which is the County agency with responsibility for land use and planning, will be involved. Our community is looking forward to participating an open, transparent, and fact-based site selection process that seeks a wide range of solutions to the needs of our children. We are confident that such a process will find better solutions than the Rock Creek Hills Park site, which fails to meet essentially all of the Board of Education's official criteria for a middle-school site.

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