Rock Creek Hills Residents Oppose New Middle School Building Plan
Board representative says site of school will still advance to feasibility stage.
The Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night to oppose the Montgomery County Board of Education’s plan to build a second Bethesda-Chevy Chase middle school on the site of a local park.
Roughly 200 residents of the Rock Creek Hills section of Kensington attended a two-hour meeting at North Chevy Chase Elementary School, during which Montgomery County Public Schools representatives presented the plan for the proposed middle school in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster.
Bruce Crispell, a representative of Montgomery County Public Schools, said the new middle school is necessary to serve an area where enrollment increases make it impossible to serve the 1,500 students equally. The plan to build at Rock Creek Hills Local Park is designed to ease overcrowding at Westland Middle School and to ensure that every sixth grader in Chevy Chase attends a middle school instead of an elementary school, as some students do.
Despite the vote by the citizens’ group, the feasibility study will move forward and likely be presented in late May or early June, Crispell said. He also said he hopes the citizens’ group—despite their opposition—will stay involved in the process.
“It’s very difficult in these built-out areas of the county to build a building that would increase traffic, even if it’s a school,” he said. “People aren’t very willing to give up the amenities they have, like a park.”
The site selection committee for the school had recommended the school be built at Rosemary Hills-Lyttonsville Local Park in Silver Spring. But the school board voted April 28 to drop that proposal in the face of opposition from residents and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
Instead, the board voted to move forward with a feasibility study for the second of the two approved sites—this one in Kensington at the site of the old Kensington Junior High School, which was closed in 1979 and converted to a park. The feasibility study, said Crispell, who is the director of the division of long-range planning, would allow for the school board to determine the cost of the project and secure capital funding in the fall. Crispell said the design and build would take up to four years.
For many Rock Creek Hills residents at Tuesday’s meeting, the fact that a site in their neighborhood was even being considered was a surprise. Several residents decried what they said was a lack of open communication by the board, although the site selection report was posted on the school board’s website. Residents said they were not informed.
“In an age of transparency, they [the board] have an iron curtain up around their operations,” Rock Creek Hills resident Maren Laughlin said after the meeting. “There might have been some support for the school, but now there is no trust, at all, that they would take our feelings into consideration. We lack any trust that this is a good process.”
Although John Robinson, the president of the Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association, initially said during the meeting that he did not want to discuss tactics to fight the middle school (this after he asked a television reporter to leave the public meeting to the shouts of disapproval from residents), the association decided to hold an open vote. The association’s next steps are to have association attorneys write letters to the board and the state to complain about the process of the site selection.
One parent of future middle school students said during a break before the vote that he was there to get as much information as possible.
“Frankly, I’m trying to balance my young kids’ needs for a middle school with my concerns about living in this community,” said George Borlase, who has a 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. “I want to make sure I get the best information on the project, school and the impact so I can decide what’s best for my kids living in Rock Creek Hills.”