Rockville Mayor Asks for More Student Capacity at Elementary School Under Construction

State of the city forum also addresses transportation, development


Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and City Manager Rob DiSpirito answer questions about the city at a forum Wednesday.

Robert Blanken

Rockville officials are pressing the county school system to add more classroom space to a new elementary school under construction on West Edmonston Drive. 

Montgomery County Public Schools is building Richard Montgomery Elementary School #5 with space for 602 students to start but the potential to increase capacity through future expansion projects. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said she would rather see the elementary school open at its maximum capacity of 740 students.

She told a group of business leaders on Wednesday that the city’s growth and neighborhood turnover are putting pressure on local schools. In her own community, she’s watched older residents move away and young families with children take their place.

“It’s that cycle of life,” she said at a forum hosted by the Rockville Chamber of Commerce.

The city’s continued development will bring new businesses and vitality to the area, she said. It will also force officials to confront school overcrowding problems, parking shortages and infrastructure needs, Newton and City Manager Rob DiSpirito said. Newton said the city must work closely with the county and the school system to keep up with Rockville’s evolution.

Newton made her case for a larger elementary school before the Montgomery Board of Education on Tuesday. With a 740-student capacity, the school slated to open in August 2018 would have room to absorb the Chinese immersion program that currently runs out of College Gardens Elementary School in Rockville. She said the switch would help alleviate crowding at College Gardens, which is about 27 percent over capacity.

School board President Michael Durso said he understands Newton’s point and will give her request consideration in the budget planning process.

“But we have a number of capital challenges out there, and growth not only in Rockville, but pretty much throughout our county is … staying ahead of us,” he said.

Newton and DiSpirito also answered questions submitted by forum attendees , who wanted to learn more about the city’s parking plans.

DiSpirito said many of the concerns deal with parking at the Rockville Town Square and reported that city staff members are meeting with the property owners to come up with solutions. He said city staff members are discussing a wide range of options, such as offering two hours of free parking without validation or issuing warnings the first few times a driver receives an on-street parking violation.

Newton said she’s long pushed for conversation about a Rockville circulator system that would offer bus rides within the cityand other alternatives to driving.

“So we’re not fighting for the few spots that are in the Town Center,” she told the audience at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre.

The duo also fielded questions about the city finances, pointing to Rockville’s AAA bond rating, thehighest level of creditworthiness a rating agency can award.

Newton noted that the city hasn’t increased its property tax rates in about a decade, while utility fees have kept climbing. She and DiSpirito said city officials will look for ways to fund utility infrastructure improvements without significant rate hikes.

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