School Construction, White Flint Roads Lead In Budget Hearings

Bethesda-Chevy Chase High SchoolConstruction funding for an overcrowded school system was by far the most popular topic at the County Council on Wednesday.

Most of the roughly 40 speakers who testified at the Council’s public hearings on the upcoming capital budget spoke in strong support of County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recommended $1.1 billion dedicated to school construction in his $4.49 billion Capital Improvements Program.

They were preaching to the choir. County councilmembers, many who are lobbying with Leggett for more school construction funding from Annapolis, reiterated their support.

At the end of the hearing, Council President Craig Rice even announced the details of an Annapolis lobbying day set for next week.

With support from the Montgomery County Council of of Parent-Teacher Associations, it appears likely Leggett’s funding recommendations for school construction projects will hold up in the Council. Leggett’s schedule would add 455 classrooms in the next six years through four new elementary schools, two new middle schools and additions in 18 elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools.

That includes $52 million for a second middle school in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School cluster, with the bulk of the funding coming in 2015-2017.

Craig Brown, a PTA representative from the B-CC cluster who testified on Wednesday, told the Council that funding was key as many sixth grade students in the area go to elementary schools. He also cited the redevelopment of Woodmont Triangle and coming redevelopment of Chevy Chase Lake as examples of population growth.

About $30 million for an addition to B-CC High School is also in the program, with the bulk of the money ($17 million) coming in 2016 and 2017.

Jill Chenok, a PTA rep from the Whitman High School cluster, testified that a feasibility study for a Whitman High School addition should be funded as well as an auxiliary gym project for Pyle Middle School.

“Pyle Middle School is the largest middle school in the county,” Chenok said. “For physical education classes, there are four classes at a time in a gym designed for two. Students end up sitting.”

Chad Salganik, from the Friends of White Flint, Lerner Enterprises official Francine Waters, representing the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee and David Winstead, representing a partnership of White Flint developers, all testified in favor of the roughly $340 million Leggett recommended for various White Flint projects.

Winstead said the developers are “very aware” of funding challenges for school construction, but asked the Council to consider moving up the $10 million projected for design work of a new Rockville Pike.

Pat Baptiste, chair of the Chevy Chase Village Board, asked the Council to support Leggett’s recommendation to provide $255,000, $250,000, $350,000 and $250,000 in the next four years for the county and Village’s joint construction of the Western Grove Urban Park between Western Avenue and Grove Street in Chevy Chase.

“We’re very committed fiscally to seeing this park come to fruition. We’re excited about this park,” Baptiste said. “It’s an exciting and new concept in urban parks.”

The Village will pick up 25 percent of the total $1,055,150 capital cost and Baptiste said a friends group is in the works to get donations for additional features.

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