‘It’s just not right’: Needed repairs at Montgomery County school asked to be sped up

South Lake Elementary School, in Gaithersburg, Maryland. (WTOP/Ken Duffy)

A Montgomery County, Maryland, elementary school that is home to many minority students has been dealing with numerous problems, including overcrowding, collapsing ceilings, overheating and pests, as WTOP first reported.

Now, school leaders are trying to make sure students at South Lake Elementary School in Gaithersburg don’t have to wait even longer for a much-needed overhaul.

Indications are that “this building is beyond its useful life,” said Seth Adams, director of the Department of Facilities Management for the county school system, “and even after the close to 30 pest control visits, the two years’ worth of indoor air quality work … we’re still fighting that battle with keeping up with South Lake.”

The county school board is now pushing to restore a plan that would have renovations completed by September 2023. That completion date had been pushed back to September 2024, because of revenue shortfalls.

The board is now asking the Montgomery County Council to take action.

“I really hope the council hears the need and passion of the South Lake community, and approves this request,” said school board Vice President Brenda Wolff. “Let’s get this done.”

“They need this so badly,” added Board member Rebecca Smondrowski. “I’m very pleased that we’re going to strongly advocate to make sure that this gets done, because it really just can’t wait anymore. It’s just not right.”

In late July, WTOP reported on the controversy related to the school and the decision to postpone updates to the building, which was designed for fewer than 700 students, but before schools closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, had almost 900 walking the halls each day.

In addition to overcrowding, which the county had attempted to mitigate with classroom trailers on school grounds, teachers had complained about poor ventilation and air conditioning, and an infestation of rodents.

Advocates for the school had accused the county of overlooking South Lake due to its large minority enrollment. The county has dismissed that claim as untrue.

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