Thursday, March 8, 2012

"I am urging you to choose an appropriate site for this school."

[an email from Ms. Maria Marzullo to Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Joshua P. Starr]

From: Maria Marzullo
Date: 7 March 2012 10:14
Subject: BCC Middle School Site Selection & Eight Criteria

Dear Superintendent Starr,

As a resident of Rock Creek Hills, I was very pleased with your decision to re-open the site selection process for the proposed BCC Milddle School. I was especially glad to see your detailed set of eight criteria by which each site should be evaluated. Unfortunately, an analysis of the eight criteria was not conducted for each site (or, at a minimum, the top 5-10 most viable ones) during the four Site Selection Committee meetings. The only time the eight criteria were considered was for the final vote on the last two sites (Rock Creek Hills and North Chevy Chase Park), and, even then, the two sites were not evaluated and reviewed side by side on those criteria (in fact, a member of the SSAC specifically asked for this review to be completed, and was dismissed).

Instead, there was a very subjective input and written detail provided on "pros" and "cons" for each site that were inconsistent and often inaccurate or misleading. I have highlighted just two, regarding park retention and street widths, below:

In the Site Selection Committee notes, Rock Creek Hills had a "PRO" listed as "retention of a park". The facts are, based on the feasibility study, the site is not large enough to retain a park for community use.  Some facilities could be used after school hours and school use, but even these are greatly diminished:

Lost completely:
  • Children's playground 
  • Street Hockey rink
  • Gazebo and picnic areas
  • Regulation sized soccer field (2 regulation fields exist today)

Limited and diminished use:
  • Basketball courts - short term (available only until portables are needed since this is the only area available to support portables on the site)
  • Tennis courts
  • One, smaller, multiple use field for soccer, soft ball, lacrosse
  • Walking, biking trail

Rock Creek Hills Park was inaccurately portrayed as being able to retain a park; other sites that were twice or three times as large had "CONS" of losing fields, and did not have "PROS" of park retention.

One of the preferences detailed in the site selection meetings was to have 60 foot [wide] roads that access the site. The size of streets was not detailed in the notes or presentations to the Site Selection Committee. Mr. Stapelton, from the bus depot, verbalized some measurements at the third meeting.  However, what was presented was misleading and in one case completely inaccurate.  Norwood Park was cited as having 26 foot roads. However, the main access road to this park, Norwood Road, is 55 feet wide.  It currently has a 15 foot median, which still leaves a 40 foot width. Yet, this site was eliminated due to "narrow" roads.

Here are some facts on the roads that access Rock Creek Hills Park:
  • Both Saul Road and Haverhill Drive are only 26-27 feet wide. There is no arterial road access to this site.
  • If there are cars parked on both sides of the street, there is only, at a maximum, 10-11 feet of clearance in total.
  • Per the feasibility study, there will not be enough parking at this site from day one. That will mean that cars will need to park on the streets in the neighborhood.  This fact was not highlighted in the meetings.
  • The elderly housing facility, that is located on the third of the original site, does not have sufficient parking. Cars are parked along Littledale Road and Haverhill Drive to support their needs.
  • There is nothing in the feasibility study, nor any mention, of the need to widen the roads to support the school.
  • More importantly - there is no cost budgeted or included in the projections of building this school to widen roads.

The fact that MCPS can easily acquire this site due to the reclaim provision does not mean that Rock Creek Hills Park is an appropriate, let alone the best, site for a middle school. Any dollars, time and negotiations that are perceived to be saved by using this reclaim provision are negated by the expensive reality of building a school on such a small, challenging site.

The feasibility study for Rock Creek Hills Park has already shown that the site is too small to allow for any growth, parking will be deficient on the day the school opens, there are not enough spaces to support the required number of buses, and the only space for portables is on the basketball courts. Given the growth we have seen in the county over the last few years coupled with the growth expected for the revitalization plans for Bethesda, the Kensington Sector, and Chevy Chase Lake, it would be foolhardy to spend taxpayer dollars on a school that will be inadequate in size from the start.

The reclaim provision, the fact that a feasibility study has been completed, and the rush to construct this school are all factors leading to a poor decision that will hurt our public schools and our community for many, many years. I am urging you to choose an appropriate site for this school. Much better sites have already been identified, will not delay the opening of the school, and can be constructed with lower costs and less impact to the community.

Thank you,
Maria Marzullo
Kensington, Maryland

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