ROCKVILLE – This week the County Council approved two feasibility studies for the best location of the Blair G. Ewing Center while Rockville struggles with the future of the Mark Twain Athletic Park next door.
The park, which Rockville maintains and uses after school hours per an agreement with Montgomery County Public Schools, could be the site of a future MCPS bus depot. The park takes up eight acres of the 22.5 acre site that houses the Ewing Center as well as six acres of a forest conservation easement area.
At Monday night’s meeting the Rockville mayor and council agreed to include a few sentences in the mayor’s testimony at the county’s budget hearing on Feb. 24 to urge the county council to fund a feasibility study for the bus depot relocation. MCPS’s Capital Improvements Program requests $32 million to replace the bus depot. Most of the mayor’s testimony will focus on school construction funding.
The city’s current agreement with MCPS runs through June 2018. According to Deputy City Manager Jenny Kimball, MCPS has made some mention of breaking ground for the bus depot in January 2018. In that case, Kimball said MCPS would have to rework their agreement with the city.
“If they are going to require us to break an agreement that we have, that does give us more of a voice,” said Councilmember Tom Moore.
Mayor Bridget Newton also said this might be a case in which the development should not move faster than the infrastructure to support it. The county plans to use the current site on Crabbs Branch Way for “smart growth” redevelopment and implementing the Shady Grove Sector Plan. The early 2014 request for development proposals for the bus depot site said developers should identify a replacement site but are not responsible for the design or construction of the facilities.
“This is an interesting predicament that the county is finding itself in when the contract originally said that the developer is responsible,” Newton said.
The working deadline for MCPS to relocate the buses from the current site is January 2017, according to Department of Facilities Management Director James Song. At a briefing before the county council on Tuesday, Song presented some temporary solutions for the buses, including using 10 current school parking lots, the Equipment Maintenance and Transit Operations Center and Carver Educational Services Center.
But according to a memo to the council, that would still leave 130 buses out of the 410 currently housed at the Shady Grove bus depots without even a temporary home.
Song said MCPS has looked at dozens of sites over the past decade for permanent solutions and none have seemed perfect. In the memo to the council, staff presented a site on Woodfield Road East near the Montgomery County Airpark as well as the Oaks Landfill site in Laytonsville as alternatives to the Blair G. Ewing site.
Residents near the Ewing Center and Mark Twain fields have said they like the school where it is and worry about how traffic will increase if the bus depot is located near the intersection of Route 28 and Avery Road.
“I’m concerned about safety. Avery Road is a two-lane winding country road with no shoulders, absolutely none, and when I encounter a school bus now I have to virtually come to a stop,” said resident Brenda Vaughan at a rally on Jan. 29. “I can’t fathom the amount of traffic.”
A group of residents united under “Save Blair Ewing,” (originally Save English Manor) organized the rally and have tried to push the county to stop relocation of the bus depot and the Ewing Center and to include more transparency in the process.
Rockville first acquired the land for the park in 1999 with help from the state’s Program Open Space funds. At the time, the city paid $196,000 from CIP funds to supplement the state’s $593,000 contribution. Kimball said the city is still working with the Department of Natural Resources to determine the Open Space requirements for the land 15 years later.
According to Rockville statistics, an average of at least 1,000 individuals use the Mark Twain fields each day except Saturday during the spring and summer months and an average of at least 600 use it most days during the fall season.