[An email from Ms. Jill Gallagher to Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Ms. Françoise Carrier]
From: Jill Gallagher
Date: March 20, 2012 3:23:06 PM
Subject: Rock Creek Hills Park
Dear Ms. Carrier,
I have serious concerns with the potential transfer of Rock Creek Hills Park to MCPS for construction of a middle school. As you know, the Rock Creek Hills neighborhood regards the park as a valued asset, one that is shared with thousands of county residents — both young and old — who come to the park each year to run, bike, walk, and play soccer, lacrosse, tennis, basketball, and roller hockey. Building a school at this park would remove most of the park’s current amenities, including two highly valued regulation-sized soccer fields.
Proof of the desperate need for soccer fields is the recent much-publicized effort by Montgomery Soccer Inc. (MSI) to secure fields for its soccer league at the Brickyard site in Potomac. MSI has spent several years and tens of thousands of dollars on lobbying efforts to lease public school land for private soccer fields because in its words, “The Montgomery County Department of Parks has documented huge needs for soccer fields in Montgomery County, especially in areas that range from Bethesda to North Potomac. There are limited opportunities to satisfy these needs, especially in terms of sites that can support more than one new field. As important as anything is the fact that these fields, and many more, need to be built somewhere, and need to be convenient to the families and children who will use them.” And, “There is no mistaking the fact that Montgomery County needs to increase and enhance their infrastructure of parks and athletic facilities for a growing population… Already, this infrastructure has failed to keep pace.” However, even MSI's Brickyard deal goes through, it will not satisfy the public's need for soccer fields.
I do not think it makes sense in this ever-growing and commercially developing area to completely replace a well-used and well-maintained park with a school. Both serve vital community needs, and replacing one with the other actually sets us back in terms of public use of land.
In a June 2, 2011, letter to Christopher Barclay, Ms. Carrier, you wrote of your desire to discuss “park-school co-locations which can favorably meet multiple public needs, provided the available acreage is sufficient,” adding that “substantive policy discussions” need to take place concerning the use of park property to fill the school system’s unanticipated and urgent need for land. Are you still committed to this idea?
Rock Creek Hills does not meet the standard of “park-school co-location.” Instead, the park will be lost completely. In January, MCPS said that 10.1 flat acres is the absolute minimum for building a middle school. At 11 buildable acres, with steep slopes, there is no margin for error and little room for growth at Rock Creek Hills Park. The costs associated with building a school for the minimum number of students also make it an expensive gamble for taxpayers.
The small site also means more impact on the surrounding neighborhood, which must bear the burden of insufficient on-site parking for cars and buses, and suffer the loss of most of the trees that provide buffer and environmental benefits.
Rock Creek Hills Park is currently co-located with Kensington Park Retirement Community, which sits on much of the former Kensington Junior High School site. Thirty years ago, MCPS chose to close Kensington Junior High School and transfer a large portion of the KJH site to the county to use to fulfill a community need for elderly housing, which is in short supply in our area. I believe the park is an appropriate joint land use with this facility, as opposed to a middle school.
I hope that our county will implement a sound land use policy in this case and in the future that would attempt to balance the need for both schools and parks, and choose sites that serve the community’s multiple needs and do not completely remove a well-used, well-loved park.