ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) posted new online evaluations of its 206 school buildings in April, but many of the worst buildings are alternative learning centers and holding facilities.
MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith said during a March 27 budget forum that for the past 12 to 14 years, MCPS-based selection of schools for revitalization and expansion projects rely heavily on the degree to which a school needed classroom space — defined by overcrowding — among other factors. He wants that to change.
“We really have to swing back to that effort to renovate and refresh and bring up to date schools so we’re not spending all of our resources and all of our energy on just creating more and more seats (in classrooms) all the time,” Smith said at the budget forum, held at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus of Montgomery College.
MCPS plans to transition, using a new assessment that the school system termed Key Facility Indicators (KFIs). KFIs include an overview of infrastructure, details of the infrastructure and characteristics of a building in terms of whether it measures up to “industry standards” for education spaces. Capital budget decisions will consider KFIs as well as the degree of school crowding and program needs within the school. The KFIs will help MCPS prioritize various projects better than in the past.
“There’s just a tremendous amount of competing needs across the system around renovating, adding additional space, and, in some cases, replacing schools while we’re simultaneously building new schools (to add capacity),” Smith said.
Smith said during various meetings that starting in April, parents, guardians and students as well as the general public would be able to see online how their school is doing in terms of the condition of various parts of the infrastructure. The results became available online April 28 or 29.
Todd Brost, a parent at Washington Grove Elementary School, said he had positive feelings about his school building. He had not seen the new facility assessment report for his son’s school.
“The facilities there are actually very good,” Brost said.
“The roof was just done two years ago,” added Brost’s wife, Susan.
Their son Ryan, 8, said he believes the gymnasium and multipurpose room are too small. Todd Brost said he believed the gymnasium and multipurpose room could be improved in terms of appearance, but he otherwise saw no issues with them.
“It’s not like it’s old or it’s falling down; it’s just outdated,” he said of the gymnasium. “Most of it is probably just exterior — (a need for) new paint.”
Washington Grove received one of the best assessments of the 206 schools, with a green dot overall and a couple of yellow dots.
The KFI assessments will replace the old method of assessment — a FACT score — which MCPS sometimes used to select which schools were next eligible for what it called a revitalization/expansion project.
In 2015, county councilmembers requested the Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) to investigate how the school system selected the order of giving revitalization/expansion projects to various schools. The OLO report included a list of problems and suggestions for how to solve them.
One problem with the FACT scores was it took more than a year to complete the facility assessments for all schools. The contractor Facility Engineering Associates (FEA), PC, which is in Fairfax, completed the assessments of all 206 schools within one year, as MCPS requested in the RFP. The Board of Education approved awarding FEA with a contract of $1,289,873 on June 12, 2018.
Another problem was that MCPS did not reassess and update the FACT scores for the facilities as they aged over time. As opposed to the assessments of the FACT score, according to the RFP, MCPS now wants the buildings to be assessed routinely over time.
On the KFI page on the MCPS website, schools are listed in alphabetical order, followed by a series of red, yellow and green circles, each assigned to a category the contractor assessed.
The learning centers and holding facilities together had the largest percentage of buildings with a poor rating for overall condition. “Green” means a part may need maintenance or repair, but not right now. “Yellow” means several parts of the item assessed may need to be repaired or replaced in the future. “Red” means the component may need “major repair, rehabilitation or replacement to the component-section as a whole,” in the future.
The learning centers used for alternative education, such as Northlake Center and Fairland Center, had more red dots for overall condition than elementary schools, middle schools or high schools.
Laura Stewart, who is a member of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, said she liked the addition of the colored circles because it was a sort of “snapshot” view of the school conditions.
“As a parent, it’s good to just click on something and be able to see these colors,” Stewart said.
However, Stewart said she found the numbers on the KFI web page puzzling.
While viewers can observe that something is likely to need replacement soon or not likely to require repair or replacement soon, MCPS does not explain how it or its contractor determined the numbers.
A person may view the assessed value of each item measured, but only after “hovering” the cursor of a computer mouse over the circle. Stewart said she discovered how to view the numbered values under the colored circles, or dots, after a few days of looking at the KFI report.
“I think it can be done in a different way,” said Stewart. “I think you could have the number in the dot.”
During past capital improvements plan budget hearings, which are hosted annually by the Board of Education, students, guardians, teachers and staff have asked when their school will get fixed, replaced or expanded. Residents will not be able to determine whether their school will be fixed soon — or not for a long time — by only looking at the KFI data.
The details on scheduling of projects will come a little later. Smith said during an education budget forum on March 27 that MCPS will lay out which schools may be scheduled for capital projects when he presents his proposed capital budget and proposed six-year capital improvements plan in the fall.