Montgomery County Public Schools has narrowed the scope of its search to site a new Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster middle school, cutting the list of locations to two public sites and three private ones at a meeting Wednesday.
and are the remaining public sites under consideration. MCPS has not disclosed the three private sites, in order to preserve its ability to negotiate a price should one be chosen.
The current site-selection committee was convened after Superintendent Joshua Starr in November proposed re-opening a controversial site-selection process for a second middle school in the crowded B-CC cluster, responding to concerns about MCPS's transparency and civic engagement.
Among the sites eliminated Wednesday was Rosemary Hills-Lyttonsville Park, near Silver Spring, which was recommended in the last site-selection process. Since then, however, the county Planning Board has voted unanimously to reject converting the site into the school, and MCPS considers it an unavailable site, said Bruce Crispell, director of long-range planning for the schools.
The remaining two public sites are also park lands, but MCPS has the right to reclaim Rock Creek Hills Park, which was the site of the former Kensington Junior High.
No matter which site MCPS chooses, it will need to go through mandatory review with Park and Planning, and, if the plans require deforestation, it will need to present a forest conservation plan to the Planning Board, Boyd said.
While mandatory review is only an advisory process, the Planning Board can halt any project if it does not approve of the forest conservation plan, .
The Parks Department has maintained that the siting of a school is not reason enough to do away with open space, and department representative Brooke Farquhar said Rock Creek Hills Park is well-used and well-loved by the community.
"Bethesda-Chevy Chase is historically under-served when it comes to large, rectangular fields," she said. "The ones on Rock Creek Hills Park can't easily be replaced."
Debbie Szyfer, senior planner with MCPS, said the schools would provide improved fields and new athletic facilities if the site were chosen, and the community would be welcome to use them after school hours.
MCPS does not have a right of reclamation on North Chevy Chase Park, and if the site is chosen, the schools would need to convince Park and Planning to give up the parcel.
The park is a nearly 30-acre site that is mostly forested, with only about 10 cleared acres. If MCPS wanted to develop on the site, it would have to demonstrate a need to clear the trees and propose a plan to replace them, planning department representative Fred Boyd said.
At the site-selection group's next meeting, members will grade the remaining sites according to a list of criteria, and the top-rated sites will be passed along to Starr. The superintendent will make his recommendation later this month, and the county education board will vote on a location in March or April, Crispell said.
Starr has said all along that MCPS needs to open the new school by 2017 in order to deal with overcrowding at and counteract the district's projected enrollment growth. He said the restarted site selection will not delay that goal.
Here's the full list of public sites eliminated Wednesday:
- Rosemary Hills-Lyttonsville Park near Silver Spring
- and the former Lynnbrook Elementary School in Bethesda
- A WSSC parcel in Lyttonsville
- near Kensington
- in Chevy Chase
- Tilden Middle School in Rockville
- in Bethesda
- in Chevy Chase
- A Montgomery County bus lot in Brookville