Location for New Elementary School Sparks Debate Among Gaithersburg Residents

Gaithersburg Elementary School Cluster

Elementary schools during the 2017-2018 school year in the City of Gaithersburg were overcrowded by more than 370 students, according to a report provided by Montgomery County Public Schools.  Student enrollment in elementary schools this current school year reached a utilization of 109 percent, and that number is expected to grow significantly over the next few years.

In anticipation of the increase in student enrollment, the Montgomery County Board of Education adopted Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jack Smith’s recommendation of building a new school on Kelley Park.  The Gaithersburg city-owned property stretches over 27 acres, features three baseball fields, tennis courts, a large play area, and more.

And while there’s not much disagreement among residents regarding the need of a new school in the community, there is an issue among some residents on the location.

For some residents, building a new school on the park should not be an option.

“It is the only green space on this side of Gaithersburg,” said resident Jeannie Shenk. “There are other places to put a school, but this park shouldn’t be one of them. The loss of the green space would be devastating to this community.”

Shenk has joined hundreds of other residents who signed a petition titled, “Save Kelley Park.” The petition urges the Gaithersburg City Council to reject the school board’s proposal, and calls on the school board to reconsider other potential sites.

The new school will help to alleviate overcrowding in Gaithersburg, Rosemont, Strawberry Knoll, Summit Hall, and Washington Grove Elementary Schools.  In 2017, a site selection advisory committee, that comprised of MCPS staff, PTA representatives, and other residents,  was created by the school district to evaluate potential elementary school sites to address over-utilization.

Emory Grove Center, located at 18100 Washington Grove Lane in Gaithersburg, was one of seven publicly-owned sites that the selection committee evaluated.

“There are so many others places than to take away this park,” said Pam Plaisted.  “This park has been interwoven in the fabric of this community […] and taking this park away would be the worst because there are going to be people who want to use it, and it may be severely restricted because of school activities.”

But residents who agree with the school board’s recommendation said building a school on Kelley Park is the only option that makes sense for the community.

“This location is central to all of the schools suffering from overcrowding,” said Seth Kamen.  “Walk-ability is also an issue.  If you look at the Emory Grove Site, there’s no walkability and you will be bumping some students across major intersections and busing them across town.”

Kamen is advocating for the new school on the Kelley Park site with a group called, “Imagine KPES.” The group has also started a petition online within the last week to rally support and to “clear up misconceptions,” according to organizers.

“We started this because we felt that there were many misconceptions being shared, regarding the selection of the site,” said Carolyn Garvey,  PTA president for Gaithersburg Elementary School. “The biggest misconception is that students who live in the area of the park will not be able to go to the school and that has not been decided. Boundary studies are held after the decision has been made to build.”

Other misconceptions, according to Garvey, is that the park will be destroyed.

“School leaders don’t want to take the whole park,” she said. “MCPS and the City of Gaithersburg will enter a shared use agreement so only a portion of the 27 acre park will be used for the school.”

Gaithersburg city officials will have the ultimate say-so on whether to build a school on the park site or not.  The council will vote on negotiations with the school district, and if approved, will construct and open a new school in under five years contingent upon funding.

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Mitti Hicks

About Mitti Hicks

Mitti Hicks is a multimedia journalist and community engagement specialist with Montgomery Community Media. She is passionate about telling stories that impact our community and may be reached at MHicks@mymcmedia.org and on Twitter @mittimegan.


One Response to “Location for New Elementary School Sparks Debate Among Gaithersburg Residents”

  1. Avatar
    On June 5, 2018 at 6:24 am responded with... #

    Kelley Park has a cell tower, remember. It was installed a year or two ago. Putting small children near a radiation-emitting structure that has no inspection requirements (the FCC is “too busy” to make sure all its towers operate under maximum exposure limits) would be a big red flag that this is not the place for an elementary school.

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