An Open Letter to the Montgomery County Council

Well, it seems that the Montgomery County Board of Education is at it again.  New signs were recently posted around the Waring Station property, declaring it a future school site.  Not a holding school, mind you, but a school.  Where was the public notice of this decision?

Here was one resident’s response:

Dear Councilmember:

As a Montgomery County resident, I am writing to ask for your help regarding a property in my neighborhood owned by the Montgomery County Board of Education at 18815 Waring Station Road in Germantown. The BOE has not been forthcoming about their plans for this property and, in some instances, has actively sought to exclude our neighborhood from the decision-making process. I am hoping that you can be our advocate for greater transparency from the BOE.

I understand that the BOE does own the property. However, according to the 1989 Master Plan for Germantown – the active plan for our community, since we were geographically excluded from the 2009 Germantown Employment Area Sector Plan – no further development was planned for this property. Many of my neighbors purchased their homes based upon this information.

In January 2011 – prior to the BOE authorizing a feasibility study for the Waring Station property – we found surveyors trespassing in our community. This was how we found out that the land was being considered for a holding school. No public meeting, no public notice, nothing.  When you consider that the 8.7 acre forested portion of this land had remained untouched by BOE for 59 years, you might understand why folks were upset.

When we rallied and tried to come to the February 8, 2011 BOE meeting (where the feasibility study was to be authorized), we were turned away and told the meeting was closed, even though it appeared to be open to the public on the agenda. When we asked to have the agenda item authorizing the work postponed, we were denied, despite more than 60 members of our community signing a petition opposing a holding school at this location.

Ultimately, several of us filed complaints with the State Board of Education. After that, the BOE chose to convene a site selection committee for the upcounty holding school, which met through last year and ultimately recommended that the holding school be placed in a different location. Strangely, no money was authorized to build the holding school in the latest CIP.

Recently, the BOE has put up signs on the Waring Station property, stating that it is now a future school site. This is, once again, news to our community and many of my fellow residents are quite upset. For some folks, this is their first public notice. And once again, no dialogue, no information, nothing from BOE. This is not transparency!

Personally, I want the Waring Station property to be preserved as a park. The property includes 8.7 acres of woods, and has been undisturbed for at least 60 years.  If the property can’t be preserved as a park, I am hoping that BOE will use the property to teach Outdoor Environmental Education. Roberto Clemente Middle School, with over 1100 students, is just across the street.

I appreciate your attention to my concerns and I thank you for reading this far. Please help my neighborhood hold BOE accountable and keep us in the loop regarding the Waring Station property.

Sincerely,

Save Waring Station Woods!

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Upcounty Holding School: Up in the Air?

On December 12, 2011, the Site Selection Advisory Committee for the Upcounty Holding School – which met from May to October 2011 – issued their recommendation for the best upcounty holding school location in Montgomery County. Nine prospective sites were evaluated, including the Waring Station property. The committee found that Waring Station was NOT the best location for the upcounty holding school, in part due to the limited acreage, sloped topography, mature trees, and lack of access to the property. Instead, the committee recommended placing the holding school at the Emory Grove Center in Gaithersburg. Joshua P. Starr, the new Superintendent of Schools, signed off on this recommendation on January 10, 2012.

This should be great news for those who want to preserve the trees on the Waring Station property as well as the folks who want to see improvements made to the Emory Grove Center. However, the FY 2012 Capital Budget for Montgomery County Public Schools (approved here) — which appropriates money for the Montgomery County FY 2011-2016 Capital Improvements Project — does not include ANY funding for a holding school at all.

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No News is Not Good News

It has been nearly a month since the Montgomery County Board of Education put a hold on work at the proposed Waring Station Holding School site.  What has happened since that time?  The community would like to know.

We were told that someone in our community would be tapped to be on the new site selection committee for the upcounty holding school.  We were given the impression that within two months – another month from now – the site selection committee would be ready to make their recommendations known.

Has a new site selection committee convened?  Is this committee holding a meeting, even as I type this, to debate and consider an appropriate location for the upcounty holding school project?  I have no idea.  And neither does anyone else in our community.

Despite Board member Michael A. Durso’s admission that the Board is “going to have to work a little bit more on giving communities a little more lead time and maybe a little more input,” we are, unfortunately, seeing a pattern repeat itself: the Board of Education is keeping us in the dark.

No news from the Board of Education is not good news.  It may not be bad news.  But it definitely means that the residents of Germantown remain uninformed about the Board’s intentions. 

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Waring Station Woods: Perfect for a Conservation Area

Instead of chopping down 9-10 acres of trees, why not do the cheapest and most financially sensible thing with the proposed Waring Station Holding School site?

Turn it into a conservation area.

This would protect the headwaters of Great Seneca Creek.  The huge gully that runs along Waring Station Road between the Woodlake pool and the entrance to Kids’ Town is already protected as Gunners Village Neighborhood Conservation Area and is not part of the proposed school site.  According to The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, this area at 18801 Waring Station Road is undeveloped for active recreation because it is a conservation area:

“This park is located adjacent to Seneca Creek state Park and is one of a series of connected parks which help protect Great Seneca Creek. Great Seneca Creek is the largest watershed located entirely within Montgomery County and is a tributary of the Potomac River.”

How much protection will the Gunners Village Neighborhood Conservation Area be able provide to Great Seneca Creek when the highest point in its drainage is used to funnel 10 acres of runoff water, sediment, and road salt from a holding school?

The most sensible thing to do would be to add the 8.7 acres of undeveloped land on the proposed Waring Station site to the Gunners Village Neighborhood Conservation Area to ensure that the conservation area can provide the needed protection.

The 1989 Germantown Master Plan lists the Waring Station site as owned by BOE but it was NOT slated for future development as a school at that time.  The 1989 Master Plan, the active master plan for this part of Germantown, states, in part:

“Should Montgomery County Public Schools surplus this 10-acre elementary school site, this Plan recommends that ownership of the property be transferred to the Montgomery County Parks Department and that it be developed as a local park.”

Now is a great time to recommend that M-NCPPC take over this site for use as a future conservation area.  Taken from the M-NCPPC website:

“The Montgomery County Planning Board and the Montgomery County Recreation Advisory Boards are accepting public input on future capital improvement projects (CIP) for parks and recreation facilities for fiscal years 2013-2018. The CIP for the Department of Parks includes proposals for parkland acquisition, renovation of older park facilities, and new park development.”

“Sign up to speak during this public forum by 4:00 pm, Tuesday, April 5, 2011. Sign-up on-line at: http://www.montgomeryapps.org/planning_board/testify.asp The forum is limited to 35 speakers; however, written comments may be submitted to Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Françoise Carrier at 8787 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland, 20910 or mcp-chair@mncppc-mc.org by Thursday, April 7, 2011.”

One of my neighbors is going to speak at this meeting.  I am planning to write a letter.  How about you?

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Parents’ Coalition Talks About Feasibility Study Being on Hold

The Parents’ Coalition shares their thoughts about the BOE’s recent decision to temporarily halt the feasibility study for the proposed Waring Station Holding School.

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Gazette Followup Article About Holding School

Today’s Gazette contained an article confirming that the Board of Education is expanding their search to find a suitable location to build a holding school in the upcounty.

Board member Michael A. Durso (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring was quoted as saying:

“I think we’re going to have to work a little bit more on giving communities a little more lead time and maybe a little more input,” he said. “The perception is that we sometimes rush things through and are not, to use the cliché, we’re not always transparent.” (Read the complete article here.)

Let’s hope that they pick a location that can accommodate a holding school of the necessary size.  The proposed Waring Station site was only going to house 740 students.  How will that help Matsunaga, with an elementary school population of over 1000 students?  If we’re going to spend millions during these challenging fiscal times, shouldn’t we make sure that the holding school will meet the needs of the community?  And what if that money is needed elsewhere, let’s say to rebuild Seneca Valley High school?  I hope that the public gets more input in future Montgomery County BOE decisions.

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Facility Advisory Committee Meetings – Canceled?

Several of my neighbors have contacted me to let me know that the Montgomery County Board of Education called them today and informed them that the feasibility study for the proposed Waring Station Holding School has been put on hold and a new site selection committee will be formed for the upcounty holding school project.  Therefore, the Facility Advisory Committee meetings for the proposed Waring Station Holding School have been canceled.  However, I have yet to see the information in writing, even though the first meeting was slated to be held in two days.  I will update this post as more information becomes available.

If you have any questions about this development – or questions about the holding school project in general – I would suggest calling the project manager, Saeyin Oh, for more information at 240·314·1019.

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