School System’s Working Plan Is To Move Potomac Elementary Students to Radnor

Parents object to initial proposal for relocating students during school replacement project


Rendering showing exterior of the replacement Potomac Elementary School.

Via Montgomery County Public Schools

A plan to relocate Potomac Elementary School students during a construction project continues to chug forward despite community protest.

Parents have bridled at the idea of temporarily moving students to the Radnor Holding Center in Bethesda, a switch that would add about 20 minutes to some bus routes. Instead, many want their children to stay in their current school while the replacement building is going up.

However, the Montgomery County Board of Education this week got behind preliminary plans to use the holding school after hearing that the Radnor option is safer and about $2 million to $3 million cheaper than keeping students onsite.

“I have to say I understand and I empathize with [parent] concerns about transportation. They already have a very long bus route to Potomac,” board member Patricia O’Neill said. “I know there’s going to be disappointment and anger in the Potomac community when the board adopts the preliminary plans, but I believe that we cannot safely build the school onsite.”

But Stacey Shenker, president of the Potomac Elementary School parent teacher association, said school system officials haven’t offered evidence backing this claim. Shifting students to Radnor, a roughly 65-year-old building surrounded by portable classrooms, presents its own set of potential issues, and Shenker said she’s seen no safety analysis comparing various construction scenarios.

Parents at Potomac have submitted public information requests for data supporting the conclusion that relocating to Radnor is safer and less costly, but haven’t been satisfied with the MCPS response.

“We ask our Kindergarteners why 2+2=4 and to show three ways why this is true,” she wrote in testimony submitted to the school board. “Why are we holding our elementary school students to higher standards than we do the decision makers within MCPS?”

Because Potomac Elementary's coverage area reaches northward almost to Travilah Road, children already deal with long bus rides, with some commutes lasting more than 40 minutes. Shuttling them to Radnor would extend these rides even further.

But safety and logistical considerations outweigh these inconveniences, MCPS staff argues. The school system has completed some past projects without relocating students, but doing so at the space-constrained Potomac Elementary site might put young children too close to dust, debris and heavy construction equipment, the analysis stated.

Keeping the students onsite might also extend the construction project by between six and 10 months because crews would have to build the replacement school before demolishing the old structure rather than doing both simultaneously.

Shenker pointed out that keeping students at the 10311 River Road site is just one of several alternatives to using Radnor. Parents have also pitched the ideas of building the replacement school at a Brickyard Road site or shifting students to the Grosvenor Holding Center, which is closer to Potomac Elementary. However, the MCPS analysis identified difficulties with these proposals.

Parent representatives also charged MCPS with not giving enough notice about Tuesday's discussion of the project. Shenker said school officials had told her they’d meet again with community members before presenting the preliminary plan to board members.

Andrew Zuckerman, MCPS chief operating officer, said it became clear that staff needed some guidance from the education board before continuing with the community meetings. The outreach efforts will continue now that the project has some direction, he said.

Board member Rebecca Smondrowski urged staff members to do better at keeping parents in the loop.

“I’m very concerned and slightly dismayed about the fact that people feel like they’ve asked for information and haven’t gotten the specifics of what they’re looking for,” she said.

The board on Tuesday also reviewed architectural renderings for the replacement school, which would be designed with classroom space for 472 students. Construction would take an estimated 18 months, with project completion scheduled for January 2020.

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