Kensington Middle School Site Battle Resumes Thursday
From Bethesda Now – By Aaron Kraut
A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge will resume a hearing tomorrow on the school system's controversial plan to build a middle school in Kensington's Rock Creek Hills Local Park.
Neighbors of the park (3701 Saul Rd.) and members of the Rock Creek Hills Citizens' Association have vociferously challenged the MCPS decision to build there at virtually every step, prompting superintendent Joshua Starr to start a new site selection process, filing an unsuccessful appeal with the Maryland State Board of Education and last September filing suit in county court.
MCPS claims it can build on the park because the Board of Education owns it. It is the site of a former MCPS school, but the school system transferred the land to the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC).
In November 2011, Starr said one of the reasons for starting a new site selection process was concern about the M-NCPPC's use of open space funds to improve the park in the early 1990's:
When the M-NCPPC developed the park in the early 1990s they accepted funds from the Program Open Space (POS). This is a program managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to distribute funds from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to preserve open space.
The use of Program Open Space funds was inconsistent with the reclamation terms of the transfer agreement under which the M-NCPPC took title to the property. This was the case since use of these funds places restrictions on future public use of parks, in contradiction with the terms of the original transfer agreement.
After the second site selection process, Starr recommended the site and the Board of Education approved it in April of 2012. The Save The Rock Creek Hills Park group then filed the suit that will again be discussed tomorrow at 2 p.m. in Circuit Court.
Opponents of the middle school on the park site want to preserve the land for park uses. In 2011, the Montgomery County Planning Board raised concerns about using park land for new school sites.
As the episode has played out, Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster parents foremost concerned with overcrowding in the cluster, have seemingly grown weary of the process. At a Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board meeting on Monday, one was dismissive of the lawsuit when discussing overcrowding with MCPS planner Bruce Crispell.
MCPS is planning for the new middle school to open in August 2017 to deal with over-enrollment at Westland Middle School and the reassignment of Grade 6 students from Chevy Chase and North Chevy Chase Elementary Schools.
Westland received a six-classroom addition in the 2009-2010 school year, but as the only middle school in the cluster was 136 students over its 1,063 capacity this year. Crispell said MCPS is projecting 1,600 middle school students in the cluster when the Grade 6 reassignments are made.