Montgomery County is experiencing lots of growth and the increased population is creating a demand for new schools. The first comprehensive capital improvements plan has just been released by Superintendent Jack Smith since he took the helm of the Montgomery County schools last year. It seeks to create new space for all these students and the plan encompasses both new and existing projects, at a cost $74 million higher than the district's previous plan.
Gaithersburg would get a new high school in Crown Farm — and an old high school in the North Bethesda area would reopen — under a sweeping construction plan unveiled by Montgomery County's schools superintendent.
The Gaithersburg high school is one of 30 projects to be built to address the record enrollment in Montgomery County. It will be built on a 32 acre site in Crown which was donated by the City of Gaithersburg and the Crown Developers to the Montgomery County Public Schools.
Montgomery's enrollment surged to 161,936 students this year, a jump of 2,926 students from the previous year, preliminary figures show. It reflects a trend a decade in the making: Since 2007-2008, Montgomery has added more than 24,000 students.
The new high school in Gaithersburg would open on a 30-acre site in the Crown community, while Charles W. Woodward High School would open anew on Old Georgetown Road, where students now attend Tilden Middle School. Tilden would relocate to a new site it will share with Rock Terrace School on Tilden Lane.
Two elementary schools would be built in the Clarksburg area and another in Rockville. More than two dozen schools would get classroom additions, including a major expansion and upgrade at Northwood High School that would increase its capacity by 1,200 students.
Superintendent Jack R. Smith said the six-year plan required difficult choices, seeking to balance funding limitations with the imperatives of enrollment growth. Despite the $1.8 billion price tag, it "does not meet all the need," he acknowledged. "And that's kind of mind-boggling, frankly, but it's true."
The growing student population in Montgomery County at first drove pressures for more space largely at the elementary level but more recently has hit middle and high schools, as large groups of students get older and move to higher grades.
School planners have said the increase is partly driven by birthrate trends and an influx of families with school-age children.
District officials say Montgomery has lacked money to keep pace with demand. Even with funding, the design and construction of a school takes at least four years, officials said.
School board member Patricia O'Neill said the growth has left the system facing choices that inevitably leave many families disappointed. The new plan is "a stab at it," she said, "but it doesn't meet everyone's needs." To do that, she added, "we need to win the lottery."
Smith's plan, outlined at a board meeting Monday night, will be discussed at a school board work session Nov. 2, with public hearings to follow, on Nov. 6 and Nov. 8. A second board work session is Nov. 14, with a board vote expected Nov. 27.