If things go according to plan, Rockville’s school will become more overcrowded. At least, that is the proposal from one member of the City Council, Mark Pierzchala, who wants to change the capacity on school construction in some parts of Rockville.
Faced with a poor economic climate as many retail businesses in Downtown Rockville are shutting their doors, Pierzchala argued that the city needs to change its standard of school capacity, which places a moratorium on new development.
It is a proposal that is highly controversial with many in the City. The Mayor of Rockville, Bridget Donnell Newton and Council Member Beryl Feinberg, along with many parents in the City, are fiercely opposed to the change.
It all came to head Dec. 17, as the Rockville Mayor and Council held a work session on the proposal.
According to the City’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance and Adequate Public Facilities Standard, new development is prohibited if a Rockville school cluster reaches 120 percent of capacity.
For Pierzchala, changing the APFS is necessary. He has proposed raising the limit to 150 percent of capacity, allowing for more development in some parts of Rockville — namely, Town Center and the South Pike region.
Pierzchala said the moratorium has the possibility of stopping a planned development on the South Pike, meaning, the City should act soon to increase its moratorium to save the project.
“That’s why there’s this rush, and I would really hate for that project — South Pike — it could just go away and we could lose a lot of benefits for the City,” Pierzchala said.
Council member Virginia Onley concurred with Pierzchala’s assessment, saying a moratorium on development could hurt the City’s future plans, speculating whether the City would have to raise taxes to accommodate the needs for more services.
Before the work session, residents and parents from the Richard Montgomery school cluster spoke against the proposal, saying that schools within the cluster are already overcrowded, and increasing the capacity would put even more burden on the schools.
“Fundamentally, severe overcrowding of our schools is a moral question,” said Noreen Bryan, president of the West End Citizen Association. “It harms our children and our community. Said simply, should the education of our children be compromised for the sake of more development in Rockville?”
But residents’ opposition to the proposal is not unanimous. Some residents, during the community forum part of the Mayor and Council meeting, said they supported Pierzchala’s plan, adding that Rockville is inneed of more density if it hopes to grow economically.
“There isn’t adequate commercial and residential density to support the town’s mission for a vibrant town square,” said resident Eric Fulton.
Richard Montgomery High School, along with other schools in the cluster, has to use portable classrooms to handle the capacity, which will soon reach 120 percent, according to staff from Montgomery County Public Schools.
Borrowing a rhetorical device from one of her favorite TV shows, “Golden Girls,” Feinberg asked residents to imagine what Richard Montgomery High School would look like with at 150-percent capacity – describing overcrowded hallways and dozens of portables placed on the baseball field.
“Picture this again, the bell sounds and 3,327 students exit classrooms to hallways constructed for 2,218 students and staff,” Feinberg said. “Can you visualize students carrying backpacks, armloads of books, instruments, next- period projects and who knows what else, all the while on the lookout to friends to give a high-five and to sneak a hurried text message to friends.”
However, Pierzchala said, raising the school capacity to 150 percent would force the issue with Montgomery County Public School officials, as they would have to prioritize it over others.
However, Adrienne Karamihas, director of capital planning for MCPS, said she couldn’t say whether intentional overcrowding at Richard Montgomery would prioritize its expansion in the capital improvements program. According to Karamihas, there is currently no plan for an expansion in the MCPS CIP for Richard Montgomery.
There will be a public hearing on the proposal on Jan. 7, with potentially a vote to come later this month.