Monday, March 26, 2012

"These officials have a broad stewardship responsibility; they are charged with balancing greater community interests. When they point to a flawed process, weak analysis, and a directed result, it is our duty to take note."

[Testimony at the March 26th meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Education]

Good evening, Dr. Starr, President Brandman, and members of the Board.

My name is James Pekar, and I am here again to ask you not to build a middle school on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park, which fails to meet the overwhelming majority of your middle school site evaluation criteria.

The recently concluded site selection advisory process gave committee members the opportunity to file Minority Reports. I would like to call to your attention two dissenting Minority Reports filed by members of our Park and Planning Commission. These officials have a broad stewardship responsibility; they are charged with balancing greater community interests. When they point to a flawed process, weak analysis, and a directed result, it is our duty to take note. [Copies of their reports are attached to my written testimony.]

Ms. Brooke Farquhar, Supervisor, Park and Trail Planning with the Parks Department, writes, in part: "Costs were not thoroughly evaluated in the process and misinformation may have prejudiced the votes of committee members.... The process lacked a robust analysis. The potential sites should have been analyzed more thoroughly, based on detailed information that would allow consistent comparison across the sites."

Mr. Frederick V. Boyd, Community Planner with the Planning Board, writes, in part: "Implicit throughout committee discussions was the idea that a decision had to be made quickly… [T]he rating process used for selecting sites did not provide a real opportunity to consider the community character and quality of life consequences of choosing a candidate site. Six of the eight criteria considered specific physical qualities of a site — its location, size, topography, access, availability of utilities and physical condition — in isolation from its neighborhood and from broader issues of recreation and environmental stewardship. The remaining two — availability and cost — are equally aimed at specific properties. Indeed, their descriptions appear to have been written to enable easier consideration of some public sites; cost is defined as 'The cost to acquire a site is considered, compared to sites that may be in public ownership.' This implies that there are fewer acquisition or other costs associated with public ownership than with private sites."

The capital budget approved by our County Council for B-CC middle school #2 has the first spending occurring on the design phase, in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which is more than a year from now. So, without endangering the planned 2017 opening date, there is time to find a location superior to the site of Rock Creek Hills Park, which fails to meet the overwhelming majority of your middle school site evaluation criteria.

Thank you.



Friday, March 23, 2012

"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."

[An email from Ms. Jill Gallagher to Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Ms. Fran├žoise Carrier]

From: Jill Gallagher
Date: March 20, 2012 3:23:06 PM
To: MCP-Chair@mncppc-mc.org
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.

Sincerely,
Jill Gallagher
Kensington, Maryland

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lyttonsville Civic Association: "Some representatives voiced concerns that they were being led to a predetermined conclusion."


The Lyttonsville Civic Association has filed a Minority Report with the Site Selection Advisory Committee.

The report states: "In some cases, MCPS staff set inappropriate boundaries for discussion, for example not allowing discussion of combining two adjacent sites to produce a better single site. In other cases, MCPS staff cut off discussion to insist that a vote be taken before the committee had finished considering all their options. Staff also made procedural rulings that affected the ability of some representatives to speak freely. Some representatives voiced concerns that they were being led to a predetermined conclusion."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"B-CC HS [NAACP] Parents' Council cannot support the recommendation to build the new middle school in a potentially racially divisive and socially isolating location."


The B-CC High School NAACP Parents' Council has filed a Minority Report dissenting from the recommendation of the Site Selection Advisory Committee.

The report states that the "... B-CC HS Parents’ Council cannot support the recommendation to build the new middle school in a potentially racially divisive and socially isolating location. ... We, therefore, ask the Superintendent and the Board of Education to decline to adopt Rock Creek Hills Local Park as the site for the new middle school."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

M-NCPPC staffer: "Misinformation may have prejudiced the votes of committee members."


Two staff members of the Maryland – National Capital Park & Planning Commission have filed Minority Reports dissenting from the recommendation of the Site Selection Advisory Committee.

Ms. Brooke Farquhar, Supervisor, Park and Trail Planning with the Parks Department, writes: "Costs were not thoroughly evaluated in the process and misinformation may have prejudiced the votes of committee members.... The process lacked a robust analysis. The potential sites should have been analyzed more thoroughly, based on detailed information that would allow consistent comparison across the sites."



Mr. Frederick V. Boyd, Community Planner with the Planning Board, writes: "[T]he rating process used for selecting sites did not provide a real opportunity to consider the community character and quality of life consequences of choosing a candidate site. Six of the eight criteria considered specific physical qualities of a site — its location, size, topography, access, availability of utilities and physical condition — in isolation from its neighborhood and from broader issues of recreation and environmental stewardship. The remaining two — availability and cost — are equally aimed at specific properties. Indeed, their descriptions appear to have been written to enable easier consideration of some public sites; cost is defined as 'The  cost to acquire a site is considered, compared to sites that may be in public ownership.' This implies that there are fewer acquisition or other costs associated with public ownership than with private sites."


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Come to Thursday's RCHCA meeting!


Come to the Rock Creek Hills Citizens Association meeting Thursday night!

Help save Rock Creek Hills Park, this Thursday night, by attending the 7:30 PM meeting of the RCHA at the Grace Episcopal Day School, 9411 Connecticut Ave., Kensington.

Without conducting comparative analysis of alternatives, and without relevant information needed to evaluate suitability of sites, a Montgomery County Public Schools advisory committee has recommended that the site of Rock Creek Hills Park be taken from the Parks Department for construction of a middle school, although the park fails to meet the overwhelming majority of the Board of Education's middle school site evaluation criteria, and would not yield parity with other middle schools in the County.

And building on the steep slope of the small site would be an expensive waste of scarce taxpayer dollars: An independent construction budget estimate (ICBE) finds that the 2011 MCPS feasibility study for a middle school on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park underestimated costs by approximately eighteen million dollars. The ICBE puts 2017 total costs at $64.5 million, almost 40% above the MCPS estimate.

Learn more from the RCHCA Minority Report.

Don’t let the Board of Education impact the character of our community without your input. Now is the time to ask MCPS for a quality education for our children. Join us at the meeting!

[Only Rock Creek Hills residents who are dues-paying members of the RCHCA will be able to vote at the meeting. If you are a Rock Creek Hills resident who is not paid up, you can pay your $35 dues (by check only!) at the meeting. Please arrive early if you need to pay your dues. Dues are per household but votes are per person, so make it a date.]

Join friends of Rock Creek Hills Park on Thursday night!


RCHCA meeting at 7:30 PM.
Grace Episcopal Day School,
9411 Connecticut Ave.,
Kensington.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Expert: MCPS Underestimates Cost of Proposed School by $18 Million.

Total Cost to Taxpayers Would Be $64.5 Million.

An independent construction budget estimate (ICBE) finds that the 2011 Montgomery County Public Schools feasibility study for a middle school on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park underestimated costs by approximately eighteen million dollars. The ICBE puts 2017 total costs at $64.5 million, almost 40% above the MCPS estimate. See page 7 (and attached ICBE) of the Rock Creek Hills Citizens Association Minority Report (below).
"This document contains the Minority Report of the Rock Creek Hills Citizens Association (RCHCA) dissenting from the recommendation of the second Site Selection Advisory Committee (SSAC). 
...
The site selection process had some significant limitations, such as the lack of analytical application of each criterion, which we believe is reflected in the outcome here. Our comments, however, focus on only the most serious of these limitations: the lack of all relevant information required to evaluate and discern suitability of all sites accurately, thus compromising an informed determination. 
... 
The SSAC decision lacks analytical rigor and substantive integrity.
...
"
-from the Minority Report of the RCHCA:

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
To: Joshua_Starr@mcpsmd.org

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:

RETENTION OF A PARK:
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.

ACCESS and STREET WIDTHS: 
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

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Revised Schedule.


Recent reports (here & from the Rock Creek Hills Citizens Association) stated that the Planning Board would review the report of the B-CC middle school #2 site selection advisory committee, before the Superintendent of Schools makes his recommendation to the Board of Education. However, the Planning Board will review both the committee's report and the Superintendent’s recommendation, before the Board of Education votes:

  • March 12th (Monday). Site selection advisory committee report released.
  • March 15th (Thursday). Planning Board briefed on site selection advisory committee report & recommendations. 
  • March 26th (Monday). Board of Education discusses B-CC middle school #2 site selection.
  • March 30th (Friday). Superintendent of Schools issues his recommendation. 
  • April 9th (Monday). Planning Board conducts "mandatory referral" review.
  • April 12th (Thursday). Board of Education votes on Superintendent's recommendation.