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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com, 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.
Replacing Dawsons Market Requires a Cluster of Solutions; That May Be Too Much for the Mayor and Council
At the end of October 2018, Dawson’s Market closed in Rockville’s downtown. It was a big disappointment for the City of Rockville, who hailed its arrival in 2012 as a major success for the new Town Square. They spent years searching for an anchoring grocery store to attract daily shoppers to support the adjacent stores and restaurants (see MyMCM video, which includes hopeful remarks by several current and former elected officials).
In response to its closing, Dawson’s opened a short-lived $100,000 GoFundMe campaign and the Rockville Mayor and Council held two special meetings to discuss the future of Town Square (a couple other businesses recently closed as well) on October 9 and November 13, which attracted standing-room-only crowds. These meetings generated lots of questions, including current efforts by Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) and the City of Rockville. Unfortunately, most of FRIT’s responses are vague and uninformative:
- “not uncommon for independent business owners to have more challenges than larger chains” (so what are the major challenges and how are you addressing them?)
- “lease rates are determined through…many variables” (so what are the lease rates and how do they compare to areas outside of Town Square?)
- “we value and pursue feedback from our merchants” (so what are they telling you and what have you learned?)
So what are the challenges facing merchants in Town Square? According to Continue reading →
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has released the Veirs Mill Corridor Master Plan in preparation for public hearings. Veirs Mill Road cuts through Twinbrook in southern Rockville before connecting with the Rockville Pike in downtown. This plan only focuses on the areas of Veirs Mill Road south of Rockville’s borders, however, coordinating the commission’s and county’s plans with Rockville’s is crucial to ensure compatibility as well as reduce impacts and ensure benefits to residents and businesses (remember the struggles on the Rockville Pike?). Planning began in January 2017 and while the draft Master Plan was released in April 2018, the Commission has not established any public hearing dates (things move slowly in the county). The draft Master Plan and more details available at http://montgomeryplanning.org/planning/communities/area-2/veirs-mill-corridor-plan/
The Master Plan examines land use, urban design, housing, transportation (including pedestrians and bicycles), parks and trails, environment, and community facilities, then provides findings and recommendations by four districts. The Plan identified the major challenges as Continue reading →
If you’re wondering what development projects are happening in Montgomery County, the Planning Department has an easy at-a-glance map that quickly highlights projects for an area that interests you. Simply go to http://mcatlas.org/devfinder/ and move the map around and click on a location. Instantly, it draws a circle from 1-10 miles in diameter, highlights the property, and provides a list of all the projects. For example, within a mile of the Twinbrook Metro Station, there are 18 development projects in the hopper with the Planning Department. Remember, if you’re on a county border (as Twinbrook is), what’s happening in the City of Rockville won’t appear. You’ll need to also check the Rockville’s website for information.
Development isn’t just happening south of Rockville in White Flint. There’s lots going on northwest of Rockville along West Montgomery/Key West Avenue.