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:

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

A news roundup

Local Covid-19 Statistics

Courtesy of Delegate Marc Korman

4,800+ businesses, nonprofits apply for county COVID-19 emergency grants 

More than 4,800 small businesses and nonprofits had applied for emergency grants from Montgomery County‘s $20 million Public Health Emergency Grant Program. The county expects money will begin to go out to approved applicants towards the end of this week. The County Council is scheduled to vote tomorrow to add $5 million to the fund.
At a press conference on Friday, Governor Larry Hogan said that out of $9.3 million in a state Layoff Aversion Fund to help avoid job cuts at small businesses, $8 million had been distributed. He also reported that a $50 million grant fund for businesses and nonprofits had received more than 20,200 applications, and that a $75 million loan fund had received more than 9,100 applications. Both funds have stopped taking applications. More.

Walter Johnson ranked sixth best high school in Maryland and No. 344 in the country

Five Montgomery County High Schools are ranked among the top 10 public schools in the state according to a report released Monday. U.S. News and World Report ranked Poolesville High School as the best school in Maryland and 90th best school in the country.

Walt Whitman in Bethesda follows Poolesville as second best in the state and No. 105 in the country. Wootton High School in Rockville was ranked third best in the state and No. 128 in the country. Churchill High School in Potomac ranked fourth in the state and No. 133 in the country. Walter Johnson in Bethesda ranked sixth in the state and No. 344 in the country. Bethesda-Chevy Chase ranked No. 13 in the state and No. 567 nationally, while Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville ranked No. 14 in the state and No. 604 in the country. Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg ranked No. 20 in the state and No. 807 nationally.

No letter grades for fourth marking period 

Montgomery County Public Schools MCPS) said on its website yesterday that it won’t assign letter grades for the fourth marking period. However, grades for the third marking period, which ended on Friday, will be given using the traditional grading system. Report cards will be mailed home starting April 27. The last day of the school year is June 15. Currently, the state has closed all public school buildings through May 15. Today, April 20, was the first day of the next phase of the MCPS online learning plan. Read details about this and more on the MCPS website.

Explore Montgomery County from home   

From virtual events to online activities, there are a variety of ways to discover Montgomery County from the comfort of your own home via the internet. You and your family can go on a farm tour, participate in musical jam sessions, see art exhibits, visit a lockhouse, hear lectures, learn about nature and try fun new activities. Visit MoCo at Home to learn more.

White Flint ES sites remain in contention

From Bethesda Beat

Montgomery County Public Schools has narrowed a list of potential sites for a new elementary school in the Bethesda area to three.

The remaining three sites under consideration are:

  • WMAL on Greentree Road
  • Two White Flint properties that have been called White Flint North and White Flint South.

The three remaining possible locations are all on the same sites as other building projects, as the school district is pushing for more innovative school buildings that take advantage of compact sites.