The Latest on Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School #9 Project

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The Board discussed plans for Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School #9 at the September 9th Board of Education meeting and voted to continue with the project as designed, on schedule.

Below you’ll see the memorandum from Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight to the Montgomery County Board of Education:

The Clarksburg Master Plan allowed for the development of up to 15,000 residential units. The plan included five future elementary school sites, four of which already have been utilized for elementary schools to address enrollment growth—Little Bennett, William B. Gibbs, Snowden Farm, and Wilson Wims elementary schools—opened between 2006 and 2019.

With continued elementary school enrollment growth, a fifth new elementary school was approved and is scheduled to open September 2023. The Board of Education’s Requested Fiscal Year 2019 Capital Budget and Fiscal Year 2019–2024 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) included funds for the opening of the next elementary school with a requested completion date of September 2021. However, due to fiscal constraints, the Montgomery County Council ultimately delayed this project two years—a one-year delay in the adopted Fiscal Year (FY) 2019–2024 CIP and a second one-year delay in the adopted FY 2021–2026 CIP.

The site selection approval by the Board of Education occurred on March 22, 2018, (Resolution No. 153-18) and identified the Cabin Branch Community site for the new Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School #9.

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) staff moved forward with the appropriate planning and design with the architectural firm to maintain the project schedule. Each of the five schools were designed following prototype school building plans to allow for efficiency in developer coordination, cost effectiveness, and predictable permitting processes, and timelines. Site plans moved ahead with the placement of the school in accordance with the Cabin Branch Winchester I development plan, which was approved on June 19, 2008. The Cabin Branch Winchester I development plan included both a rough site grading plan as well as a site plan with the proposed school sited on the plat.

MCPS staff worked with the developer to prepare the site in accordance with the approved site plan, which included the preparation of the school building pad. To maintain project completion, the initial design process began in the fall of 2019, and consisted of community conversations as well as cross-agency collaboration. The preliminary plans for the project were presented to the Board on May 28, 2020. Following the approval by the Board (Resolution No. 247-20), a series of meetings were conducted with the Montgomery County Planning Board (Planning Board) staff.

During the timeframe of this particular design, the Planning Board developed a recommendation that strongly encouraged MCPS to submit a Concept Plan prior to filing a Mandatory Referral application, to allow for an early opportunity to address master plan, design, transportation, and other site development concerns. Consistent with the established Planning Concept Plan review process, MCPS submitted a Concept Plan, which was reviewed by the Development Review Committee on May 19, 2020. Following this meeting, multiple items were addressed and the Mandatory Referral was submitted and received by the Planning Board on September 17, 2020.

During the 60-day review period allotted by the Mandatory Referral process, an extension was requested by Planning Board staff to allow for additional comments and studies to occur. MCPS granted this additional time. In November 2020, MCPS staff met with Planning Board staff to review additional comments at which time Planning Board staff requested that the proposed school orientation be revised. In addition, Planning Board staff provided additional comments related to the site, vehicle, and pedestrian circulation for MCPS staff review and consideration. MCPS staff continued to meet with Planning Board staff to incorporate, to the maximum extent feasible, and within reasonable compliance of the educational specifications, the comments presented by Planning Board staff. However, MCPS staff fundamentally does not agree with the relocation of the school footprint as recommended by the Planning Board staff, as this change negatively would impact school operations, project costs, and project schedules.

MCPS staff requested to continue with the Mandatory Referral process, despite not making the changes recommended by Planning Board staff. The Mandatory Referral hearing took place on June 17, 2021. During this review, and as outlined by Planning Board procedures, it is expected that the Planning Board consider all relevant land use and planning aspects of the proposal, including:

• Consistency with the County’s General Plan, functional master plans, approved and adopted area master plans or sector plans, and other public programs for the area;

• Consistency with the intent and requirements of the zone;

• Adequacy, safety, and efficiency of the location of buildings, structures, open spaces,
landscaping, recreation facilities, and pedestrian and vehicular circulation systems;

• Approved Natural Resources Inventory/Forest Stand Delineation and preliminary stormwater management concept plan and whether it meets the requirements of the Forest Conservation Law. The Forest Conservation Plan must be approved by the Planning Board and is binding on all county projects;

• Preliminary or Final Water Quality Plan review by the Planning Board if the project is located in a Special Protection Area; and

• Whether the site is needed for park use if the proposal is the disposal of a surplus property and whether alternatives have been considered for the project if the proposal is not consistent with the General Plan or other plans and policies for the area or has negative effects on the surrounding properties or neighborhood, the transportation network, and the environment or other resources.
During this hearing, the Planning Board staff raised several concerns and continued to encourage MCPS staff to create a strong public presence along Clarksburg Road (MD 121) and revise the school entrance to face Byrne Park Drive. In addition, it was requested that MCPS staff relocate vehicle loops and parking to the side and rear of the proposed school site through a variety of design modifications. Because the proposed plan did not accommodate the Planning Board staff recommendations, the Planning Board ultimately denied the plan for Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School #9. During the hearing, and included in the Planning Board staff report recommendations, MCPS was encouraged to revise the submitted plan in accordance with the Cabin Branch Community Guidelines and comments as outlined in the Mandatory Referral document dated June 17, 2021; highlighted comments below:

• As a primary civic building within the greater Cabin Branch Neighborhood, this building should be iconic and oriented towards Clarksburg Road, and should be fronted by a very open and civic plaza facing onto a street connecting to the primary entry of the school.

• Parking should be out of the way and to the side or rear of the building. A primary driveway to the parking and services along the edge of the park would create a “public” edge to the park that could feature a well-designed, tree-lined pathway along its outer edge.

• In order to achieve a better design relationship between the proposed Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School #9 site and the surrounding community, the new school should be sited near the intersection of Clarksburg Road and Byrne Park Drive to engage the public realm and create a civic presence and gateway into the community. The main entrance to the school should be on Byrne Park Drive.

While these comments are consistent with longer-term county master plan visions and intent, the scope of this review is based on the 1994 Clarksburg Area Master Plan, the 2018 Bicycle Master Plan, and the 2018 Master Plan of Highways and Transitways. MCPS strongly supports the implementation of all approved Master Plans; however, it must be reiterated that the comments provided relate to the operations of a school building, as well a student’s experience upon arrival at their school. The Planning Board staff comments will have a negative impact on the operational requirements of a public school in the current environment of the project, as well as to the fiscal constraints of public funding.

MCPS staff have restated that as a public agency serving both school and neighborhood communities, we are committed to providing facilities and associated community amenities that meet the needs of today and tomorrow. The Planning Board indicated that they would like to see this plan again and strongly encouraged MCPS to bring the plan back for another hearing. MCPS staff noted that next steps would be community engagement, discussions with the Board of Education, and the Montgomery County Council regarding cost and design implications.

Following the Planning Board hearing date of June 17, 2021, MCPS has scheduled a community outreach for feedback from the Clarksburg Elementary School community with a heavy focus on current residents in the Cabin Branch Community. The initial meeting to receive additional feedback will be held September 15, 2021.

It is our intent, through the project design process, to balance and integrate all aspects of school site operations to ensure maximum safety of all, including pedestrians, bicyclists, bus passengers, visitors, and persons utilizing the drop-off and pick-up areas. The project plans have been developed in consultation with third-party pedestrian safety and traffic engineers, parent/guardian and community representatives, MCPS Department of Transportation, Montgomery County Department of Permitting, and Montgomery County Department of Transportation. Furthermore, consideration of the physiological experience of students and staff entering the school building must be considered in planning an elementary school. The experience of the arrival to a school for students and staff transcends the larger “iconic” presence of the building and the location of the parking on a school site.

I recommend that the Board continue the Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School #9 project as designed and approved by the Board at this time.

WHEREAS, The Montgomery County Planning Board reviewed the Mandatory Referral submission for the Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School #9 project on June 17, 2021; and

WHEREAS, The Montgomery County Planning Board denied the project, citing concerns related to the Montgomery County Public Schools site design, and recommended further revisions; and

WHEREAS, The Montgomery County Planning Board has provided two illustrative concepts (Figure 4: Staff Illustrative Concept 1 and Figure 5: Staff Illustrative Concept 2) that were developed by the Montgomery County Planning Board staff for consideration (Attachment A); and Members of the Board of Education 5 September 9, 2021

WHEREAS, The architect for the proposed new Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School #9 project, Grimm + Parker Architecture, Inc., located in Calverton, Maryland, has prepared the recommended site design (Concept 3) in accordance with the educational specifications (Attachment B); and

WHEREAS, The Board of Education has reviewed and assessed the recommendations and comments of the Montgomery County Planning Board; now therefore be it Resolved, That the Board of Education approve the continuance of plans as designed to assure the Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School #9 project maintains all safety, operational, and programmatic goals, standards, and requirements; and be it further Resolved, That the Board of Education approve the continuance of plans as designed to ensure the critical completion date of August 2023, be maintained; and be it further
Resolved, That a copy of this resolution be forwarded to the Montgomery County Planning Board.

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