- Use the County’s recently approved student generation rates to update the Plan’s public schools projectioins
- Account for the cumulative impacts of other area master plans whose children are also within the B-CC public schools cluster: Chevy Chase Lake, Westbard, and Lyttonsville
- Include feasibility and capacity assessments for each remediation option offered in the Plan
- Incorporate walkability and affordability as factors that contribute to higher student generation rates for multi-family high rise residences.
School overcrowding exists today and will accelerate.
With better planning, it can be prevented.
POSSIBILITIES ARE NOT PLANS
The Plan acknowledges the critical overcrowding conditions at B-CC High School (p.88 printed, p.96 of the PDF), and that little to no room exists for future expansion at cluster schools. The plan discusses various possibilities, such as reopening closed schools, redistricting, or finding new school locations.
The presentation by the Planning Department at Worksession #1 briefly summarizes the possibilities:
However, the bottom line recommendation is:
Assure that there are options for providing adequate capacity.
Failing to provide adequate educational infrastructure does a great disservice to area families — current and future — who otherwise would find downtown Bethesda an attractive place to call home. MCPS is struggling to serve current enrollment, and is even contemplating putting schools in vacant office buildings. This type of unconventional problem solving is creditable, but requires near perfect planning and dedicated resources for execution. The possibility is too great that our excellent school system may devolve into a highly inequitable one, where some children “have” and others “have not.”
Prior to approving the Plan, the County Council must reconcile sector planning recommendations with realistic projections of student enrollment across the entire Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster.
STUDENT GENERATION RATES
Bethesda Elementary and B-CC High School, like many County public schools, are overcrowded. What is troubling about these schools is they lack any room for expansion. The remediation options listed in section 2.8.4 are vague, some have been discounted in the past as unfeasible, and in some cases the same remediation options have been proposed to other MCPS clusters.
Most troubling is the preference in the July 2016 Planning Board draft for outdated information. Planning Department staff explained to CBAR that MCPS wrote section 2.8.4: Educational Facilities, for the May 2015 Staff Draft. Michael Durso, president of the Board of Education, updated the official guidance in a March 24, 2016 letter addressed to Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and County Council President Nancy Floreen. This official letter also raised concern that the combined effect of the Bethesda Downtown, Westbard, and Lyttonsville plans were “coming at a time when many of the schools in the area either currently exceed capacity or are projected to exceed capacity in the near future.” (Note that missing from this letter is the additional enrollment B-CC High School will experience as a result of the Chevy Chase Lake sector plan.)
It is deeply troubling that the July 2016 Planning Board draft retained outdated information. Section 2.8.4 is clearly invalid, and must be revised prior to approving the Plan.
In March 2015, Bethesda Beat reported:
According to [MCPS long range planner Bruce] Crispell, the main factor is turnover in single-family home neighborhoods, which happens because older empty nesters move into new high-rise developments, and younger families with school-aged children move into their family homes.
This makes perfect sense.
To summarize, the Bethesda Downtown Plan needs to project both:
- The number of new students expected to live in downtown high rise units
- The number of new students expected to live in nearby single family homes that will be vacated by singles or couples who move into downtown high rise units
WALKABILITY AND AFFORDABILITY
The appeal of condo and apartment living for empty nesters does not diminish the likelihood that families with school age children will move into downtown residential units at a much greater rate than accounted for.
Former MCPS Planner Crispell referenced the low numbers of school age children living in the 174-unit PerSei apartment building at Pike & Rose to validate the idea that apartment buildings do not generate a large number of students. However, no public schools are in walking distance of this apartment building. The thousands of apartments and condos planned for downtown Bethesda, however, are much more attractive to families with school age children because they are walking distance to two public schools: Bethesda Elementary School and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.
Furthermore, Planner Crispell’s assertion that student generation rates in apartment buildings are low is because, “[these units] are expensive” disregards one of the key objectives of the Bethesda Downtown Plan: to expand Affordable Housing throughout the downtown area (page 6 printed, page 14 PDF).
To reinforce the idea that affordable housing is intended to serve families, the Montgomery County Housing Policy objectives lead with:
Concentrate most new housing near public transportation and provide easy, multi-modal connections to jobs, schools, shopping, recreation, and other leisure activities.
We therefore implore the County to find ways to accommodate the incoming student population before the Plan is approved.