Interim Superintendent’s $1.72 Billion School Construction Plan Addresses MCPS Space Needs
Interim Superintendent Larry A. Bowers has recommended a $1.72 billion six-year school construction plan for MCPS, which includes several new projects that will add much-needed classroom space for the district. The Superintendent’s Recommended Fiscal Year (FY) 2017–2022 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) represents a $172 million increase over the current six-year CIP, which is needed to deal with the district’s rapid enrollment growth.
Mr. Bowers’ recommended CIP includes 10 new classroom addition projects—six in elementary schools and four in secondary schools—and a new elementary school in the Clarksburg cluster. The CIP recommendation also maintains the timeline for many projects that are already approved in the current CIP (FY 2015–2020). He also has recommended a significant investment in the district’s infrastructure needs, including increased funding for the replacement of aging heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units across the district.
If all the projects in the recommended CIP are built on time, 12,249 seats would be added across the district by the 2021–2022 school year.
“As our enrollment continues to grow, many of our schools are operating well above their capacity limits and too many of our students are going to school in older buildings that are beyond the expected life cycle,” Mr. Bowers said. “While I recognize that Montgomery County continues to struggle with revenue shortfalls, I must advocate for the facilities we need to provide our students and staff with the learning environments they deserve.”
For the past two years, the Montgomery County Board of Education and the Montgomery County Council have lobbied for additional state revenue that could be used to accelerate the timeline on many shovel-ready projects. While those efforts have not been successful, Mr. Bowers said that state and local leaders know that there are significant capital needs in MCPS, Maryland’s largest and fastest-growing school district.
“School and county leaders must continue to work together to make the case for additional funding that we can use to deal with our growing space needs,” Mr. Bowers said. “We cannot provide enough classrooms for our students unless we receive additional county and state funding.”
About 35 percent of the interim superintendent’s CIP ($595.6 million) will be spent replacing aging schools through revitalization/expansion projects to provide more modern and efficient classrooms; 37 percent ($634.7 million) is targeted for projects that increase capacity, including classroom additions, space added through revitalization/expansion projects, and new schools; and 28 percent is slated for countywide projects, such as critical infrastructure improvements and HVAC replacements.
The Montgomery County Board of Education held a work session on the superintendent’s recommended CIP on Nov. 5. A public hearing on Mr. Bowers’ recommendation was held on Nov. 9; the second will be held on Thursday, Nov. 12. The Board is expected to take final action on a CIP request on Monday, Nov. 16.
Enrollment in MCPS this school year is 156,455 students, a one-year increase of more than 2,600 students. Since 2007, MCPS enrollment has increased by 18,710 students, mostly at the elementary school level. In that time, more than 14,000 seats have been added through construction projects, but there are still significant space deficits throughout the district.
As the current enrollment “bubble” in elementary school begins moving into secondary schools, MCPS expects significant capacity concerns in middle and high schools across the district in the coming years. By the 2021–2022 school year, secondary school enrollment is projected to increase by more than 10,000 students—3,500 in middle schools and 6,800 in high schools. That is enough students to fill three middle schools and three high schools.
To address capacity concerns, Mr. Bowers is recommending 10 new classroom addition projects in his recommended six-year CIP and is keeping the timeline for many others.
The six new elementary school addition projects are at East Silver Spring, Greencastle, Montgomery Knolls, Pine Crest, Piney Branch and Woodlin elementary schools. The classroom addition at East Silver Spring would relieve capacity issues at Rolling Terrace Elementary School, and the additions at Montgomery Knolls and Pine Crest would help relieve overutilization at Forest Knolls Elementary School.
Mr. Bowers also maintains the completion dates of five previously approved elementary school addition projects and is accelerating by one year the timeline for projects at Ashburton Elementary School and S. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, which have among the largest space deficits in the district.
In secondary schools, Mr. Bowers is recommending four new addition projects at Col. E. Brooke Lee, Thomas W. Pyle, and Takoma Park middle schools, and Walt Whitman High School. He also maintains the timeline for four other secondary school addition projects.
“These projects will help ease capacity concerns in communities that have seen significant enrollment growth over the past several years,” Mr. Bowers said. “There are certainly more projects that we could do, but we must be mindful of the funding that is available to us at this time.”
In developing this CIP, Mr. Bowers considered an elementary school eligible for an addition if the school was at least 125 seats over capacity. This is lower than the 150-seat threshold used in the current CIP, but is higher than the threshold of 92 students used in the past. Based on that threshold and other factors, five previously approved elementary school addition projects are not included in Mr. Bowers’ FY 2017–2022 recommendation—Brookhaven, Glen Haven, Highland, Kemp Mill and Sargent Shriver elementary schools. Additionally, four schools for which classroom addition feasibility studies were conducted are not recommended for projects—Highland View, Lake Seneca, Thurgood Marshall and Meadow Hall elementary schools.
“I know these communities will be disappointed that their projects are not included in my CIP recommendation,” Mr. Bowers said. “We will continue to monitor enrollment at these schools and will take action if capacity concerns start to grow. However, we must use our existing funds where they will have the biggest impact and address the most pressing needs.”
Revitalization/Expansion and New Schools
Formerly known as modernizations, revitalization/expansion projects not only replace aging schools with more efficient buildings, but also add space that can alleviate capacity concerns. Over the past five years, MCPS has completed 19 revitalization/expansion projects that have added 180 classrooms and more than 4,000 seats for students.
Mr. Bowers’ recommendation keeps the timeline intact for previously approved revitalization/expansion projects. Among elementary schools, projects at Wayside, Brown Station and Wheaton Woods remain on schedule to open in August 2017 followed by Potomac, Luxmanor and Maryvale, which are scheduled to open in January 2019. Among middle schools, Mr. Bowers is recommending that the revitalization/expansion project at Tilden Middle School remain on schedule for completion in August 2020. The Seneca Valley High School revitalization/expansion project is recommended to remain on schedule to open in August 2019.
It should be noted that revitalization/expansion projects at Wheaton High School, William H. Farquhar Middle School and Thomas Edison High School of Technology are already under way and are slated to open on time.
The interim superintendent’s recommended CIP also adds one new school, an elementary school in Clarksburg that would open in August 2019. The recommended CIP also maintains the timeline for three previously approved new schools—a Clarksburg/Damascus middle school opening in August 2016; a middle school in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster opening in August 2017; and an elementary school in the Richard Montgomery cluster opening in August 2018. However, Mr. Bowers is recommending a one-year delay in the construction of a new elementary school in the Northwest cluster because the space deficit in that area has decreased in recent years. This project would now open in August 2019.
A Montgomery County Office of Legislative Oversight study was released earlier this year on the revitalization/expansion program. Based on the findings, the Facilities Assessment and Criteria Testing (FACT) Review Committee will reconvene to consider changes to parameters measured in FACT scoring. As a result, a new queue for future school revitalization/expansion projects may be developed.
HVAC and Systemwide Projects
Mr. Bowers is recommending a significant investment in system infrastructure improvements and HVAC replacements.
In order to deal with growing enrollment, MCPS has focused more of its CIP funding on building capacity in recent years and has put off essential HVAC replacements and other infrastructure improvements. In order to keep up with HVAC replacements and eliminate its large backlog, MCPS would have to spend $28 million a year for the next 10 years.
To begin addressing this need, Mr. Bowers is recommending that $122 million be spent over the next six years on HVAC replacements, a $30 million increase over the current CIP. He also is recommending that $50 million be spent on roof replacements over the next six years, an increase of $8.1 million, and $13.3 million be spent on fire safety upgrades, an increase of $6 million.
Mr. Bowers is recommending a new systemwide project to install artificial turf fields at the 19 high schools that currently do not have turf fields. Athletic fields at MCPS schools—especially high schools—are frequently used by the school and the community. Artificial turf fields can be used more frequently, are less impacted by wet weather and require less overall maintenance.
Mr. Bowers is recommending that $11 million be spent over the next six years on this project and is hoping that private/public partnerships can be developed to offset the cost of constructing and maintaining the fields.