When the Carl Sandburg Learning Center moved from Twinbrook to East Rockville to join Maryvale Elementary School, the future of the now vacant building was unknown. During the last few months, lots of vehicles were visiting the empty building along with surveyors and utility crews. None had any answers about what was planned, although the neighboring residents were curious.
Mike Stein, president of the Twinbrook Community Association, asked Rob DiSpirito, Rockville’s city manager, about it and it turns out that Montgomery County Public Schools is planning a major expansion that will add loading for seven school busses, expand the parking lot by 50 percent to add twenty-nine more spaces, and add twenty-one (21!) portable classrooms (aka trailers). MCPS recently met with the Planning and Development Services department at the City of Rockville to discuss their plans, but have not yet filed an application.
A closer look at MCPS’s Capital Improvements Program for FY2022 reveals that Jack Smith, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, recommended to the Board of Education in October 2020 (six months ago!) to use the “former Carl Sandburg Learning Center as another elementary school holding facility” to accelerate the construction of Stonegate Elementary School for completion in September 2023 (Capital Improvements Program/Master Plan, pages 5, 1-2, 3-6). That means the school children, faculty, and staff at Stonegate will commute to Carl Sandburg for the next two years.
MCPS is moving fast and not thinking about the impact on the surrounding neighborhood. Carl Sandburg Learning Center is sited just south of Twinbrook Parkway, which serves as an unofficial cross-county connector for Rockville. Sharing Twinbrook Parkway within a mile are Meadow Hall Elementary School (402 students) and Rockville High School (1448 students)—all will be starting and ending their rush hours at about the same time. By turning Carl Sandburg into a holding school, it will add to the already significant traffic snarls we face every weekday on this two-lane road (but maybe when the pandemic lifts, we’ll continue to work from home?).
If you are concerned about the size or impact of this holding school on the neighborhood, contact the Rockville Planning Commission at Planning.Commission@rockvillemd.gov and copy Jim Wasilak, chief of planning, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twinbrook residents Anne Goodman and John Tyner are planning commissioners, so you can contact them as well. The State of Maryland grants school districts significant latitude in the use of their land (basically, their decisions trump city and county government) so if you’re really concerned, you need to contact your elected officials, such as County Executive Marc Elrich, County Councilmember Sid Katz (who represents Rockville), and Bridget Newton (mayor of Rockville), who can apply political pressure.
If you are concerned about the school district’s lack of communication with the neighborhood about this major expansion project, contact Jack Smith (MCPS superintendent of schools, retiring in June); Brenda Wolf (chair of the board of education, who also represents District 5 where Carl Sandburg is located) at Brenda_Wolff@mcpsmd.org; or the entire Board of Education at email@example.com. While residents, businesses, and developers have to notify the neighborhood of significant changes to their land, school districts are largely exempt—and it’s a bad civic practice.
If you are concerned about the potential damage to the majestic old tree behind the school (anyone know the species?), well, maybe the City Forester can help at firstname.lastname@example.org, but it is on school property and they tend to treat landscaping as a low priority.
On all messages, please copy Mike Stein at Twinbrook.President@Gmail.com to keep the Twinbrook Community Association in the loop. They are local association of residents advocating for the neighborhood.
Carl Sandburg Learning Center (451 Meadow Hall Road, Rockville) had 93 students in grades PreK-6 and was built in 1962 with 52,227 square feet on 18 acres OR 31,252 square feet on 8 acres (MCPS data conflicts).
Stonegate Elementary School (14811 Notley Road, Silver Spring) has 492 students in grades K-5 (currently over capacity by 92 students with seven portable classrooms) was built in 1971 with 52,468 square feet on 10 acres.
“Holding facilities are utilized for capital projects, such as major capital projects and large-scale addition projects, to
house students and staff during construction. By relocating students and staff to a holding facility, MCPS is able to reduce the length of time required for construction and provide a safe and secure environment for the students and staff.” Currently, there are six holding facilities for elementary schools: Emory Grove, Fairland, Grosvenor, North Lake, Radnor, and the former Carl Sandburg Learning Center.
Thank you for the update. Glad to hear the property can be used for a holding school. As you mentioned the county trumps city regulation in use of the property but the City does have requirements that need to be met. I don’t believe writing the officials is much help since procedures need to be followed. I don’t want the public to believe they can stop the project. It is wrong to give that impression.
~Brigitta Mullican, 56-year resident of Twinbrook, Rockville. Maryland
Former Rockville Planning Commissioner