Board of Education Approves $1.73 Billion Capital Improvements Program
The Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously approved a $1.73 billion six-year Capital Improvements Program (CIP) request for MCPS on Nov. 16 that will help ease overcrowding caused by years of rapid enrollment growth and allow the district to upgrade and maintain aging facilities.
The Board’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2017–2022 request 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 request keeps on schedule many other projects that will add capacity to schools and increases funding for countywide infrastructure projects, including Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) replacement and numerous other infrastructure needs.
“This CIP is an investment in our students and our future,” said Board President Patricia O’Neill. “As we balance our dramatic facility needs with the fiscal realities we are facing in our state and county, we know that we must continue to invest in our facilities if we are going to keep up with our growth and provide all of our students with modern, safe classrooms where they can learn and grow. We have serious funding challenges ahead that we must address and we will need help from Gov. Hogan and the legislature.”
Capital Improvements Program
A new six-year CIP is approved every two years and includes investments in four general categories—capacity projects, such as new schools and classroom additions; revitalization/expansion projects that upgrade and expand existing schools; infrastructure improvements; and technology.
The Board’s CIP request represents an increase of nearly $185 million over the current CIP (FY 2015-2020). It includes $345.6 million in expenditures for FY 2017.
The request will now be submitted to the county executive and the County Council for consideration. The county executive will release his CIP for the county, including MCPS, in January. The Council will consider the Board’s CIP request in the spring, with final approval scheduled for May 2016.
Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers submitted a $1.72 billion CIP recommendation on October 28. The Board’s requested CIP is about $12 million higher than Mr. Bowers’ recommendation because of changes the Board made based on community input and districtwide need. The Board voted to add $11 million to complete an additional 24 classrooms at Wheaton High School, increase the investment in replacing aging HVAC systems to $40 million from the superintendent’s $30 million, and added another $6 million to assist schools with aging infrastructure. To offset the increases, the Board voted to reduce the expenditure of about $15 million intended for a new elementary school in the Northwest cluster and delay that project for two years (to an opening date of August 2019). Due to enrollment changes in that cluster, the new elementary school is not immediately needed.
Public hearings on the CIP were held on November 9 and 12, attracting dozens of students, staff, parents and community members. Much of the testimony focused not only on space shortages, but the growing need to replace aging buildings and infrastructure.
“We are approving a substantial CIP request today but, even if it is fully funded, it won’t meet all of the needs we have,” said Michael Durso, vice president of the Board. “Many of our schools are operating well above their capacity limits and we cannot provide our students and staff with the learning environments they deserve unless we receive additional funds from the county and the state.”
Enrollment in MCPS this school year is 156,674 students, a one-year increase of more than 2,800 students. Since 2007, MCPS enrollment has increased by 18,929 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.
The Board’s CIP includes classroom additions at the following elementary schools: 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.
The Board also voted to explore the reopening of the closed Parkside Elementary School or other nearby elementary schools through a feasibility study as a potential solution for overutilization in the Downcounty Consortium.
The Board’s CIP 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.
The Board approved four new secondary school addition projects at Col. E. Brooke Lee, Thomas W. Pyle and Takoma Park middle schools, and Walt Whitman High School. The CIP request also maintains the timeline for four other secondary school addition projects.
The CIP request approved by the Board keeps the timeline intact for previously approved revitalization/expansion projects, which not only will replace aging schools with more efficient buildings, but also add space to 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.
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 2020. Among middle schools, Tilden Middle School will remain on schedule for completion in August 2020. The Seneca Valley High School revitalization/expansion project will remain on schedule to open in August 2019.
The Board’s CIP request also adds one new school, an elementary school in Clarksburg that would open in August 2019. The 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.
The Board’s CIP request also includes an additional $17 million, above the approved CIP, in the Technology Modernization project to fund new technology purchases, continue the Chromebook rollout plan over the next six years, and fund 16 positions that were reallocated from the operating budget to the capital budget.
Other Boundary and Facility Actions
The Board also took action on several other facility and boundary issues that are part of the CIP:
Clarksburg/Damascus Middle School Boundaries
The Board approved a service area for the new Clarksburg/Damascus Middle School. Students from Wilson Wims and Cedar Grove elementary schools will matriculate to the new school, scheduled to open in August 2016, which is needed to address enrollment growth in the area and space deficits at Rocky Hill Middle School.
A boundary advisory committee was established to consider attendance zone options for the new school and met four times from March to May. Two public information sessions also were held, one in February at the beginning of the process and the other in June at the end of the process.
The boundary advisory committee considered seven different options for the attendance zone and, after thorough review, strongly supported the option that Mr. Bowers recommended. Students entering Grades 6 and 7 next school year would attend the new middle school, with Grade 8 being added during the 2017–2018 school year.
Downcounty Consortium Elementary Schools
The Board unanimously approved five classroom addition projects that would relieve capacity issues at several elementary schools in the lower portion of the Downcounty Consortium.
Additions at Montgomery Knolls, Pine Crest, East Silver Spring and Woodlin elementary schools would be completed by August 2020. These projects will not only increase capacity at these schools, but also will relieve capacity issues at Rolling Terrace and Forest Knolls elementary schools. The Board also approved a feasibility study and addition at Piney Branch Elementary School to open in August 2021. The Board also voted to explore the reopening of the closed Parkside Elementary School or other nearby elementary schools through a feasibility study as a potential solution for overutilization in the Downcounty Consortium.
Gaithersburg, Magruder and Wootton Cluster Roundtable Discussion Group
The Board unanimously approved Mr. Bowers’ recommendation for a roundtable discussion group to take a broad look at school enrollments, utilization levels and facility options in the Gaithersburg, Col. Zadok Magruder and Thomas S. Wootton clusters. The tricluster roundtable group, which will convene in December and conclude its work by February, will explore approaches to relieving the overutilization of Gaithersburg cluster schools. The approaches developed by the roundtable discussion group would be general in nature and no boundary changes would be considered as part of this process. Any recommendations will be completed in time for inclusion in the FY 2017–2022 CIP.
Walter Johnson Cluster Roundtable Discussion Group
The Board also approved unanimously Mr. Bowers’ recommendation for a roundtable discussion group to gather input on options to address near-term and long-term enrollment increases in the Walter Johnson cluster. The group will explore options at all school levels, including reopening closed schools and use of the former Woodward High School facility. The roundtable discussion group would only consider options in the Walter Johnson cluster. The report of the roundtable group will be used to inform recommendations for future facility planning.
Rachel Carson Elementary School
The Board approved Mr. Bowers’ recommendation on a 5-2 vote to increase the size of the revitalization/expansion project at DuFief Elementary School to 740 students to alleviate capacity issues at Rachel Carson Elementary School. Rachel Carson Elementary School currently serves more than 1,000 students in a school building that has a capacity of 667 students. The school currently uses 10 relocatable classrooms to manage the overutilization and, due to the configuration of the building and the land, it cannot be expanded.
Last year, the Board of Education approved feasibility studies for additions at three nearby elementary schools, which could be used to alleviate capacity issues at Rachel Carson Elementary School. The Board had also asked the district to study the feasibility of building a new school in the Quince Orchard cluster, in which Rachel Carson Elementary School is located. However, this approach was not recommended. The DuFief Elementary School revitalization/expansion project is scheduled for completion in August 2021. (This completion date may change given the plan to reexamine the methodology that was used to score and order schools for revitalization/expansion projects.) Reassignment of Rachel Carson Elementary School students would not take place until that project is completed.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase Middle School #2 and Westland Middle School Boundary Study
The Board authorized a middle school boundary study to develop the service area for the new Bethesda-Chevy Chase Middle School #2, and associated changes to the service area for Westland Middle School. A community boundary advisory committee will begin in January 2016 and send a report to the superintendent and Board of Education by June 2016. In fall 2016 the superintendent will make a recommendation for the boundaries of the two middle schools, and the Board will review the recommendation, hold public hearings and take action in November 2016.
Unity Area Boundary Study
The Board approved a boundary study to be conducted in the fall of 2016 to study realigning the Unity community in northeast Montgomery County from the Gaithersburg cluster to the Sherwood cluster. A community boundary advisory committee will meet in fall 2016 and send a report to the superintendent and Board of Education by January 2017. In February 2017 the superintendent will make a recommendation for the boundaries in the area, and the Board will review the recommendation, hold public hearings and take action in March/April 2017.