A letter from the WJ Cluster Coordinators supporting the funding of Phase II of the construction of Woodward

October 8, 2021

Hon. Brenda Wolff President
Montgomery County Board of Education

Dr. Monifa McKnight Interim Superintendent
Montgomery County Public Schools

President Wolff, Dr. McKnight, and Members of the Board:

On behalf of the more than 10,000 students and their families in the Walter Johnson Cluster, we
write to you today to support MCPS staff and recommend that the upcoming CIP fully fund Phase II of
the Woodward High School project.

The culmination of Phase II funding follows more than seven years of work with MCPS. For several
years, the Walter Johnson cluster has been actively engaged with you, your predecessors, and MCPS
staff regarding the severe overcrowding in the Walter Johnson cluster and at Walter Johnson High
School in particular. The many years of this work, from the formation of the Walter Johnson
Roundtable Discussion Group in 2015 to the Woodward Phase II design discussions currently taking
place, have made us no strangers to the art of compromise. Compromise is about give and take; it
is about seeing needs of other community members and how decisions might affect them. Compromise,
however, also entails an understanding that some values, some outcomes, cannot be negotiated – they
are firm.

What has been firm for our cluster from the outset has changed little. We have always stated, and
continue to believe, that Woodward must (1) relieve the overcrowding at Walter Johnson HS; (2)
allow the cluster communities to remain together in either Walter Johnson or Woodward, while
welcoming an expanded community from other clusters; and (3) be a facility with physical amenities
and course offerings comparable to all other high schools in MCPS.

Within these firm first principles, however, we have both promised and demonstrated flexibility,
and there have been plenty of compromises along the way. For example, from the time it was first
announced, we fully supported the two-Phase approach of rebuilding Woodward so that it could be
used as a holding school for our neighbors in the Northwood cluster. We supported this plan even
though it would lead to a delay of at least 2 years in the much-needed

relief to the overcrowding at Walter Johnson High School, as well as result in an added level of
uncertainty in the project through a two-phase funding system. Even with these concerns, we
realized that we needed to be flexible to meet the needs of the MCPS community as a whole –
specifically to assure that a new Northwood High School was built in the most efficient and safest
way possible.

We believe that the Phase II design plans presented earlier this month to the community are also a
great example of the art of compromise. In 2019, there was some debate on whether Woodward would
be the first and only MCPS high school not to have its own athletics stadium. We opposed this
suggestion because it would have deprived Woodward students of the opportunities afforded all other
high school students in MCPS. This was a debate that implicated much more than a Friday night
football game – stadium and field space is a Title IX issue, as girls’ sports such as soccer,
lacrosse, and field hockey are, unfortunately, more likely to bear the brunt of playing field
shortages. As we began to reopen from COVID, our MCPS community also recognized the value in
outdoor seating venues – as a place to safely enjoy lunch and resume celebrations like
graduations. Accordingly, we were pleased to see that all four Phase II design options included
an athletics stadium, a track, and separate softball and baseball fields. We thank MCPS for
recognizing we cannot compromise on having sufficient facilities for outdoor play and gathering
spaces and for supporting a core value of parity among MCPS high schools.

The evolution of the design that has become Option 1 also shows the value of compromise – the give
and take needed in projects that affect many different constituents. Chief among them is the
extent to which the county should use an undeveloped land tract between the existing Woodward site
and Edson Lane that used to be a part of the Woodward property. This property was owned by MCPS but
surplused to the county in 2004 at the request of the County Executive as a potential site for a
workforce housing development and to provide funds for the school system. The land, however, was
not used for affordable housing and has remained a wooded area. Neighboring residents near the
future Woodward High School, particularly on the Edson Lane side, value this area and feared the
wooded area would be completely tom down.
While original designs for Phase II would have used more of this property, we are grateful that
MCPS staff has taken these neighbors’ concerns seriously and re-designed Option 1 to use only a
portion of this area, thereby preserving a substantial portion of the wooded space. This choice to
mitigate the disruption to the property – this compromise – came at the expense of design elements
of the Woodward stadium compared to a typical stadium, including smaller total seating capacity,
foregoing a “visitors section”, and a less than optimal location of the press box. In the spirit of
compromise, the Walter Johnson Cluster supports Option 1, as it preserves much of the wooded area
while using only what is needed for MCPS students.

In addition to Option 1, there are options before you that make no use of the property adjacent to
Woodward. However, we are concerned that options that make no use of the Edson Lane area require
workarounds that would make Woodward’s facilities inferior to every other school in the County.
Specifically, efforts to avoid using even a portion of the wooded land would come at the expense
of equity in girls’ athletics and accessibility for those with disabilities. It could also
saddle the project with unnecessary costs at the request of a small minority of County residents.
To be clear, we believe that all options presented for Phase II are worth moving forward to fund,
as all contain at least a stadium and field space, an auxiliary gym, an auditorium, and other
related facilities that are integral to the high school. As we discuss below, we believe that
Option 1 offers the most benefit to future students of Woodward High, all MCPS students, and the
entire neighboring community.

Option 1 contains the best use of field space for all sports – regardless of the gender of the team

  • by allowing for the proper orientation of the softball and baseball fields. It also promises to
    be the most ADA accessible and provide the easiest access for emergency response.
    Accordingly, we believe that Option 1 promotes equitable opportunities to participate in athletics
    and school events regardless of gender or disability and provides the infrastructure to keep our
    kids safe in the event of an emergency. While secondary to these core values of equity,
    accessibility, and safety, it is also the most appealing design, as it allows for a more centered
    grandstand and traditional track. Second, we understand that Option 1 requires fewer retaining
    walls, which can keep costs of construction and maintenance down. While cost is not everything,
    we recognize that design options that increase the cost of Woodward will slow the work on other
    projects in the MCPS Capital Improvement Plan. We therefore believe avoiding unnecessary costs
    must be a priority. Finally, while there are other options that preserve the entirety of the
    County-owned area along Edson Lane, this preservation seems to come at the expense of neighbors
    adjacent to other parts of the Woodward property. We agree that looking at the needs not just of
    MCPS but of the neighboring community – the entire Woodward community, is important. That
    community should be inclusive not only of current owners of property adjacent to the Edson Lane
    parcel, but also to Woodward’s other surrounding
    neighbors, as well as the future students, teachers, staff, and parents of Woodward High School,
    including those with disabilities.

Therefore, we urge the Board to fully approve Option 1 for the Phase 2 design of Woodward High
School and to reject any design options that do not meet the tests of cost effectiveness, equity in
fac‘Cities, and accessibility.

As ever, we appreciate our continued partnership with you and the MCPS staff on the reopening of
what we are confident will be a Woodward High School that will be state-of-the-art and benefit all
of Montgomery County. While there is much work left to do, it is gratifying to see such an
important project reach this final design phase. We look forward to being a constructive partner
in seeing Woodward to its fruition.

Sincerely,

Emily Beckman, Jim Bradley, and Sara Cortes Walter Johnson Cluster Coordinators

Cc: Members of the Montgomery County Board of Education Hon. Marc Elrich, County Executive
President Hucker and Members of the Montgomery County Council
Chairman Anderson and Members of the Montgomery County Planning Board Hon. Bridget Donnell Newton,
Mayor, City of Rockville
Hon. Kacky Chantry, Mayor, Town of Garrett Park Hon. Tracey Furman, Mayor, Town of Kensington
Cynthia Simonson, President, Montgomery County Council of PTAs Laura Stewart, Chair, MCCPTA CIP
Committee
Sheri Steissel Weiss, President, Luxmanor Citizens’ Association Ed Rich, President, Greater
Farmland Civic Association Shannon Ross, President, West Femwood Citizens Association Amy Ginsburg,
Executive Director, Friends of White Flint
Deb Berger, The Oaks at North Bethesda Community Association

MCPS scales down plans for Woodward High as costs increase

Capacity cut from 2,700 students to 2,160 students

From Bethesda Beat

As costs increase, Montgomery County Public Schools has adjusted its plans for the renovated Charles W. Woodward High School, removing several classrooms and reducing the maximum capacity by about 540 students.

Original plans called for an enrollment of 2,700 students, but on Thursday, the school board voted to approve new plans that cut the capacity to 2,160 students. Sixteen classrooms will be removed to shrink the school’s size by about 35,575 square feet.

Adjusting the plan now will allow for it to remain on schedule while still accomplishing three key goals:

• House students from Northwood High while their school is rebuilt

• Reopen as its own school once Northwood students depart

• Be home to a high school arts program

Read the rest of the article at Bethesda Beat.

Well done, WJ!

On NBC: Walter Johnson Students Help Others Cope During the Pandemic

Four Walter Johnson students noticed the cracks forming in the lives of their peers during a year of distance-learning and created a remarkable safe space online. FED-UP WJ helps students reconnect with each other through Zoom meet-ups where students can talk things out.

Watch the news story: https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/changing-minds/montgomery-county-students-help-others-cope-during-the-pandemic/257803

Moratorium Damages County’s Competitiveness and Affordability, Fails to Fix School Capacity Shortfalls.

Below you’ll find some highlights from a blogpost from Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson. I encourage you to read the entire post, which includes lots of informative charts and tables.

1. New development is not driving school overcrowding.

With the possible exception of Clarksburg, the surge in school enrollment faced by MCPS in recent years is attributable to turnover in housing built decades ago.

2. Moratoria have failed to solve the overcrowding problem and cut off a source of funds to build schools.

Some argue that even though turnover is largely responsible for overcrowded schools, the moratorium serves a useful purpose in generating political pressure to solve school capacity shortfalls, and that the threat of a moratorium will force elected officials to focus on the issue.

The short answer is we tried it and it didn’t work. The Walter Johnson, Blair, Northwood, and Einstein clusters all went into moratorium in July 2019 despite real estate developers warning that housing development projects in these areas would be delayed or killed. The deadline came and went, the projects were put on ice, and no funding for capacity expansions was accelerated from any source.

A moratorium also makes it more difficult for MCPS to deal with their capacity issues because impact taxes help fund the cost of capacity projects. The Planning Board has proposed adding additional payments in overutilized clusters that would require higher payments (utilization premium payments) in more crowded school clusters, but the idea is the same: new development pays more than its “share” and stopping development cuts off a needed supply of funds for the school system’s other needs.

The fact that moratoria are allowed to take effect despite their impact on development reveals the flaw in an implicit premise of the moratorium policy — namely that real estate developers will find a way to get schools built rather than see their business grind to a halt. The truth is that developers often operate in multiple jurisdictions, and they raise money to finance their projects from investors who are choosing among opportunities in every part of the country and even the world. Developers don’t like seeing their projects held up after they have spent time trying to get them lined up, but ultimately most of them don’t need to be here because they can acquire land to develop somewhere else. Montgomery County taxpayers have more to lose by stopping new housing construction than real estate developers, school board members, or any other group.

3. We are not producing enough housing – and moratoria make the housing supply problem worse.

Our school impact fees, and moratorium policy are damaging our ability to provide the housing our residents and economy need.

The reasons for our lagging housing production are many — including high costs of materials, shortages of skilled labor, and constraints on the availability of land suitable for development — but impact fees for schools are certainly a contributor.

A comparison of Montgomery County’s rules to the approach taken by our peers and competitors in the region is telling. We have the highest school impact payments in the greater Washington region except for Loudoun County, which is in a stage of its evolution where greenfield development is the norm.

See what Woodward High School is going to look like

Charles W. Woodward High School will be a holding facility for Northwood High School while Northwood HS undergoes a renovation/replacement at their current site from September 2023 to August 2025.

Woodward High School will then be reopened September 2025. MCPS Division of Capital Planning will start the process of a boundary study to determine who will go to Woodward High School 18 months prior to the opening of school.

The size of the school will be 27.31 acres (for reference, Bethesda-Chevy Chase HS is 16.36 acres, Walter Johnson HS is 30.86 acres). However, significant topographic change within the site limits the use of flat area for site amenities.

The new Woodward HS building will be designed for a capacity of 2,700 students.

The proposed building is terraced into the existing grades to minimize excavation and has a 3-story portion along Old Georgetown Road and a 4-story portion near athletic fields

Construction is expected to start in January 2021, if all approvals are granted by the Montgomery County Planning Board (there’s work to do there).

The end of the moratorium!

Fabulous news! The Planning Board will receive the FY21 annual school test on Thursday, and the current moratorium for the Walter Johnson cluster will come to an end. Here is the staff memo. This means that pending North Bethesda developments, ranging from Twinbrook to Rock Spring, could move forward!

From the staff report:

The test also finds three additional clusters – Montgomery Blair, Albert Einstein, and Walter Johnson clusters – to be ‘open conditionally’ as shown in Table 2. The projected enrollment for the high schools at these clusters indicate that they will exceed the test’s utilization standard in the 2025-2026 school year as well, but the enrollment burden at these schools are expected to be relieved by approved capital projects at other high schools – Northwood HS and Woodward HS – through future student reassignments.

County passes capital budget that includes funding for Woodward re-opening

The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to approve the County’s $5.8 billion Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Operating Budget and a $4.4 billion FY21-26 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) to fund school construction, infrastructure improvements and community projects. The Council’s focus throughout its budget work was on providing continuity of services for County government and residents.

“The Council’s approach to this budget was unlike any other,” said Council President Sidney Katz. “We had a singular goal—continuity of service. Like households across our community, we had to limit our spending and control budget growth. The $5.8 billion operating budget and the $4.4 billion capital budget provides stability for our residents and our workforce, while we await a clearer picture of expenses and revenues that will emerge during the summer and fall. We all recognize that there will be more work to do to meet the ongoing public health and financial needs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The County’s $4.4 billion Capital Improvements Program provides funding to address the County’s most urgent building needs. Some items of note in the CIP include keeping the reopening of Woodward High School and the Northwood High School Addition/Facility Upgrade on schedule. Thank you to the County Council for keeping this vital project on track.

Our letter to County Council about funding the opening of Woodward

Dear Councilmember:

On behalf of the 2,000 residents, businesses, and property owners who are members of Friends of White Flint, we ask you to ensure that the re-opening of Woodward High School remains on track so that the Pike District/White Flint area can get out of moratorium July 1.

While we appreciate the many budgetary issues caused by the economy and pandemic, it is essential that the Pike District/White Flint area get out from under the damaging building moratorium caused by the capacity issues at Walter Johnson High School. In order for both White Flint and Montgomery County to fulfill their economic potential, Woodward High School must open on schedule and not be delayed. As you know, the residential development moratorium prevents the County from collecting much-needed school impact taxes, taxes which account for a significant portion of the school construction budget. There are multiple developments ready to build but who cannot start construction due to the moratorium.

We ask you to support the construction of a holding facility at Woodward for Northwood High School to use between September 2023 to August 205 and then reopening Woodward High School after Northwood departs. Funding a new Woodward High School will lift the moratorium in the White Flint/Pike District area and address the over-capacity issues at Walter Johnson High School.


Thwarting the county’s transit-oriented development strategy by limiting construction in the White Flint/Pike District area with a continuing building moratorium would be short-sighted and devastating. As many councilmembers have noted, fulfilling the incredible promise of the 2010 White Flint sector plan is crucial for the economic vitality of Montgomery County. Redevelopment cannot occur in the White Flint area while the moratorium is in place, so it is important for all of Montgomery County that Woodward High School is fully funded to lift the moratorium on July 1.

Thank you in advance for ensuring the economic health of Montgomery County, supporting transit-oriented development, and allowing the promise of the White Flint sector plan to be fulfilled by funding the rebuilding of Woodward High School using the original timetable.

Amy Ginsburg, Executive Director