ROCKVILLE — Although County Executive Ike Leggett pulled two Rockville-area sites for relocating school buses from Shady Grove, one more controversial site is still on the table.
Some local residents are protesting County officials’ consideration of the Blair G. Ewing Center along Avery Road as a new host site for the buses.
Jamison Adcock, president of the Aspen Hill Civic Association, has spoken out against relocating buses to the site for the last two years as part of the “Save Blair Ewing” group.
“Less anybody just think this is NIMBYism, the people who are opposed to this, they’re from all over the area,” said Adcock. “This is people scattered all over the place.”
He cited environmental, traffic, educational and cost concerns for opposing the site.
“Number one, the fact that it wasn’t pulled speaks volumes to me,” said Adcock. “That’s a terrible location for an industrial use such as a bus depot. It’s in the Rock Creek watershed. It’s 400 feet from the creek. It’s on top of steep hills dropping into the creek.”
For the traffic, he noted the two-lane road is windy like a country road.
Meanwhile, the Ewing Center is one of six secondary alternative school programs run by Montgomery County Public Schools, located in a wooded area northeast of Norbeck Road and east of the RedGate Golf Course.
“Where are you going to put the students?” said Adcock.
According to Board of Education President Mike Durso (District 5), that’s an open question.
Durso said there is not one ideal site that has surfaced so far for relocating the buses.
With Avery Road, MCPS will have to choose between bringing buses to the site and relocating students to another area or keeping the students at the school and putting the buses somewhere else.
The site itself is due for more than $10 million in renovations that County officials have put off due to uncertainty about relocating the bus depot, according to Durso.
“It’s large enough to address many, not all, but many of our issues. But there is an alternative school on that site that would obviously have to be relocated. All of that is very, very iffy,” he said.
“We’ve been reluctant to eliminate that as a site because the buses have to go somewhere and there are a lot of reasons why some sites are not attractive to various folks but we’re kind of stuck trying to find a place to put the buses.”
Durso noted the Board of Education members have “some plans to renovate that site but also that site has also been suggested as a possible site for the buses too, so we kind of have two issues going at the same time.”
According to Durso, the answer about what to do with the buses is not likely to please everyone.
“As we just become more and more urbanized, these challenges are just not going to wait,” he said.
Unlike Carver and Westmore, the Avery Road site is not in a residential neighborhood, though there is one house “that backs right up to that property,” said Adcock.
“There are other residences by that area. I think the problem is Ike Leggett and the Executive branch have sort of a bean-counter mentality,” he said.
Eric Fulton, vice president of the Carver Coalition, said his group members and the Save Blair Ewing group have shared information.
The Carver Coalition led residential opposition to the County Executive, County Council and Montgomery County Public Schools considering the Carver Educational Services Center and the 1000 Westmore Avenue sites for relocating the school buses.
Two weeks ago, the County Council instructed staff to draft a resolution declaring there was still further need for the Jeremiah Park site at the Shady Grove Bus Depot, where more than 400 school buses are currently located.
Dozens of Carver Coalition members showed up to the County Council meeting, many of whom carried signs and wore yellow shirts opposing the move.
Later that week, Leggett pulled the Carver and Westmore sites.
Fulton said Carver Coalition leaders “encourage” coalition members to follow the Save Blair Ewing website and “get involved if they’re interested.”
However, while Fulton says he and other Coalition members “stand in line with Jamison and his group,” the Carver Coalition itself will not be making the same push against Avery that it made against the Carver and Westmore sites.
“The Carver Coalition was formed for a very specific reason and achieved that goal,” he said.
This fall, County staffers report back to the County Executive with recommendations for moving the school buses, according to Leggett.
He said staff is looking at “probably four or five different sites” and are “going through the analysis at this point in time.”
County officials are not the only ones with a stake in the Avery decision as the property borders the City of Rockville.
Deputy city manager Jenny Kimball noted in a May 23 memo to the mayor and City Council that MCPS identified the Ewing Center site as the most “viable” site “for a permanent bus parking solution,” noting the Fiscal Year 2015-2020 capital improvement projects budget “included a request for $31.3 million to redevelop” the Ewing site for a replacement depot, which was rejected by the County Council.
Kimball stated three of the four sides of the property are located within a Forest Conservation Easement.
The city also has a “long term lease with MCPS for the use” of Mark Twain Park, an eight-acre parcel within the larger 22.5-acre property.
According to Kimball, “There was significant community opposition to this proposal, including environmental, traffic concerns and the loss of the athletic fields leased by the city for sports leagues.
“If the Blair Ewing site was to be used as a replacement depot, then the current sports league programming operated by the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks would need to be transferred to another location.”
Rockville Council member Virginia Onley said she’s still undecided and learning about the site, so she has not taken a stand on whether it would be an acceptable alternative for relocating the buses.
“I remember when Avery Road came up, there was a slew of objections,” she said. “I don’t know at this point whether it is a site that I would endorse.”
Onley called on City and County officials to “put our heads together and come up with a resolution.”