Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Let's make things better!

This evening, the new site selection advisory committee for Bethesda - Chevy Chase middle school #2 will hold its first meeting. Our community is looking forward to participating in an open fact-based site selection process that we are confident will find solutions superior to Rock Creek Hills Park, which fails to meet the overwhelming majority of the official site selection criteria. (On November 17th our County Board of Education rescinded their April 28th decision to take Rock Creek Hills Park from the Parks Department, but the park remains at risk as a "candidate site".)

In November,  Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr wrote: ‎"As we enter into a new site selection process for the new middle school, a priority is to avoid the pitfalls we experienced on the Rock Creek Hills Local Park site selection." Accurate descriptions of candidate sites are critical to avoid the pitfalls of the last site selection. Unfortunately, the new MCPS description of Rock Creek Hills Park (which forms part of the official starting point for site evaluation by the new site selection advisory committee) contains significant factual inaccuracies:

The MCPS description of Rock Creek Hills Park as "Formerly Kensington Junior High School" does not reflect current land use:
Rock Creek Hills Park is a portion of the former KJH site. Thirty years ago, after KJH was closed, about one-third of the former school site was deeded to the Housing Opportunities Commission, which built the Kensington Park Retirement Community on much of the footprint of the old school. The remainder of the former school site (minus one-third of the land, road access to the North, and a through roadway) was developed into Rock Creek Hills Park.

The MCPS description of Rock Creek Hills Park topography states: “Level area with lower level additional parking. Generally slopes towards stream valley to the west.” That's inaccurate. Look:
(Click image for larger version.)
As the topographical map shows, the park slopes to the South and the West, and has a steep 50-70' drop. Indeed, a June 10, 1985, MNCPPC memo from Jim Crawford to Gail Price noted that the site slopes “steeply toward the Kensington Parkway stream valley park.” The memo noted that “[s]teep slopes ... limit development potential," and that “development would be constrained” because of the “severe topology”.

The MCPS description of Rock Creek Hills Park states that the park has two access roads. That's misleading. As seen on the map (above), from the standpoint of physical roadways, there is no arterial road, and there really is only one road along the park, which changes naming conventions.  Haverhill is merely a small connection road between Littledale and Saul Roads.  Had the developers chosen to name the right fork of the traffic triangle Haverhill and the left fork Saul, we would be speaking of only one road. In contrast, other candidate sites have multiple physical roadways.

The MCPS description of Rock Creek Hills Park states that the only "constraints" are the use of the site as a park, and its topography. That's wrong. Look:
As this document shows, Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and/or State Program Open Space (POS) funds were used to develop the park. The respective governing statutes make clear that land “acquired or developed” with such funds may not be converted to non-park use without undergoing a restrictive conversion process that includes the identification of replacement land of equal monetary and recreational value in the community. This constraint is substantial, and inquiries are pending on the matter with the Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources. To our knowledge, other sites do not face this significant constraint, and thus, its implications for Rock Creek Hills Park should be acknowledged.

The MCPS description of Rock Creek Hills Park states that its "availability" is "unknown". As stated above, Federal and/or State law create significant uncertainly regarding the legal availability of the site for construction, which should be acknowledged.

Recently, our community representatives brought these and other site description errors and concerns to the attention of MCPS with a request for clarification. Unfortunately, the site descriptions will not be clarified in time for tonight's meeting. We hope that MCPS will correct these important inaccuracies. After all, an official MCPS "Core Value" (from "Our Call to Action: Pursuit of Excellence. The Strategic Plan for the Montgomery County Public Schools") is: "MCPS demonstrates commitment to continuous improvement by reviewing, evaluating, and improving our work..." And, as Dr. Starr has said, "... we are never fully absolved from our responsibility to make things better."

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