Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"process will set a bad and defective precedent for all future public school modernizations"

Public Comment on Farquhar Middle School Modernization


  1. I can understand the Hydes wanting an empty field rather than a school next to their house. However, the concerns listed in this LONG letter run from inflated to simply untrue.

    This process has been open from the start, MCPS and M-NCPPC have acted in good faith, and nothing about this land swap is against the Olney Master Plan. if anything, Olney will end up with MORE green space by doing the land swap.

    It's amazing that the Hydes are arguing these issues for a middle school moving 200 yards. They brought up nothing like this when they sold Good Counsel their land, across the street, to relocate a 1200 person high school from Wheaton.

    Troy Kimmel

  2. @ Mr. Kimmel - Here is what is fascinating about all of this to the rest of the county: How did a Feasibility Study turn in to a Site Selection? In MCPS land those are two very different committees with different charges.

  3. Maybe with a full and open Site Selection Process, MCPS would have been able to identify a site that is actually located within the Cluster and to which students could actually walk!

  4. How do they end up with MORE green space when there is currently a field, which will turn into a school, parking lots and drive aisles, and when Dr. Song said, on record, all of the existing school and parking is currently budgeted to remain in place?

  5. Actually Mr. Kimmel a feasibility study means the parcel of land has already been decided on and approx.$45,000 will go into designing the building. BUT a site selection committe actually looks at several different sites before recommending the BEST LOCATION for all in the community and then proceeding with a Feasibility study.
    If the BOE said they were conductin a feasibility study and then it became a site selection that is a very large leap... one has to preceed the other...

  6. @Troy Kimmel maybe you should go back and look at how long and public the Special Exception processes were for both GC and WCA. Nothing like the black box MCPS operates within.

  7. If this use is in conformance with the Master Plan and everyone at Park and Planning is already on board, why don't they just request a direct dedication of the property for a school site with a commitment to transfer the existing property to MNCPPC once the relocation is complete? I'm not sure I understand why there needs to be this convoluted swap?

  8. Wow - there a lot of comments here from the Anonymi.

    This school is moving 200 yards to the left. Many high schools move further on their own lots when being rebuilt! This is not a relocation - it's a modernization.

    Also - where else in Olney could such a school be built, if a site selection were conducted? Where in the Master Plan does it say we can build a middle school within Farquhar's district? It doesn't.

    The public hearing process at M-NCPPC will still apply here - there is no skirting of public notification processes on any agency's part.

    At the end of the day - we'll have a park and a school within the 37.4 acres on Batchellors Forest Road, just as the Olney Master Plan recommends. Because of existing amenities on the current Farquhar site, the County will save money in building the park.

    Isn't this a good outcome for everyone?

    Troy Kimmel, not Anonymous

  9. @ Mr. Kimmel,

    Thanks for using your name! It really helps the reader keep track of the conversation. For your information, there have been a variety of anonymous posters on this topic.

    Your comment about this not being a relocation is interesting. Are you advocating that the school remain at the same site and not move to the Pulte site next door?

    According to the public records, the site next to the current Farquhar Middle School is owned by Pulte, not by M-NCPPC.

    What public process are you talking about at the M-NCPPC for schools? The only thing that happens when a school is modernized is that the Planning Board gets to review the Forest Conservation Plan. That's it.

  10. Why would anyone be OPPOSED to this win/win solution? This will cost the county less money-which is pivotal right now, and will prevent kids from being on a bus for close to 3 hours a day for 2 years. Does anyone really want that to happen?

    Given that I live across the street from Good Counsel (who bought their land from the Hyde family) and have to deal with all of it's daily traffic and issues on Friday nights, I don't see how the Hyde's can complain. We didn't have the school there in the first place, just an open field, and because of them, we do now. But I really can't complain either because I don't own the land and I live in a developing community....that's what happens.

    I am having a hard time understanding how moving a school 200 yards away is site relocation. Paint Branch is modernizing and building their new building about 150 yards away and no one is calling that a relocation.

    MCPS and the BoE has made the right decision and I applaud them for it!

  11. In response to the "more green space" question:

    It's very simple. Follow along with me:

    1) Whichever parcel is used for the park it would theoretically have the same amount of space used for parking lots and courts eventually. If we have a plot that is 2 or 3 acres bigger for the park, the net amount of green space left after these parking lots and courts are subtracted would be 2 or 3 acres more. Makes sense, right?

    2)The preferred option of the BOE is the 3 story building. This would clearly have a smaller footprint than a 2 story building of the same square footage. I do not know if this is part of the overall calculation of "green space" as it won't be a part of the park, but it certainly results in more non impervious surface space which I believe is the intent of green space.

    Post again if you didn't follow any of this and I'll expound further, but I think it's fairly clear.

  12. I agree..... it seems that "Anonymous" has a very wide variety of conflicting opinions!

  13. As to cost - Please link to the documents that show exact cost. At the Board of Education meeting yesterday I believe the conversation was that the old school would NOT be demolished. Someone has to pay for the old school to come down to create a park. That someone would be taxpayers, right?

    Sticking to the facts, Paint Branch HS is being modernized on site. It is on the land that is already owned by the Board of Education. A number of high schools were modernized that way. Lots and lots of classroom trailers were used and the building and students were shifted around as construction went on.

    If you are just proposing moving the Farquhar MS to a new location on the existing site then there is no issue with the Pulte property.

  14. @Janis:
    I believe that the MNCPPC process that Troy is referring to relates to the land swap portion of the scenario. They have a public process in relation to their decision to swap parcels with MCPS. You are correct I believe that they would not have involvement in the other decisions relating to modernization.

  15. @ R Hanson - thanks for identifying yourself. Again, it makes it so much easier for everyone to follow the conversation!

  16. My pleasure, Janis.

    The land next door to Farquhar is no longer in Pulte's hands, it is now titled to M-NCPPC.

    The Planning Board reviews all government agency site plans under their mandatory referral process. Testimony and community input occurs at these meetings.

    By the way - at yesterday's BoE meeting, the budget director at MCPS was talking about having to identify charges and fees paid to Deutche Bank and other financial firms for leases. I sensed your handiwork!

    Troy Kimmel

  17. Re- cost - New site would need all new sewer, electric etc... correct? Actual costs would be very helpful.
    See the Inspector General's report on the Seven Locks ES modernization on the IG's website for some background on why cost information is important.

  18. http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/uploadedFiles/schools/farquharms/news/Farquhar%20MS%20Modernization%20Feasibility%20Study.pdf

    Page 24 of the Study shows that no funds were allocated to the demolition of the existing school.

    In addition, the "study" shows that land development costs of the ungraded, virgin site are the same as the existing site despite the topographical challenges and lack of utilities.

  19. To continue down the cost discussion. If you included demo and disposal of the existing school in Options 1 and 2 (~$15/sf x 116,300sf = $1,744,500) and include the transportation costs (MCPS estimate of $1.536MM) in Options 4 and 5, then your total costs rank as follows:

    Option 5 - 40.758MM
    Option 1 - 40.1375MM
    Option 2 - 39.872MM
    Option 4 - 39.725MM
    Option 3 - 38.827MM

    Weird that Option 3 wasn't even a real topic of conversation.

  20. Option 3 and the other on site options were considered, but MCPS was against them from the start due mainly to safety concerns and extended time frame. It was not pursued very far as it was essentially a non-starter with MCPS.

  21. Interesting numbers. The demolition costs are hugely inflated though. The numbers quoted by Anonymous above for demolition are more than what's contracted to demolish Gaithersburg High School - a facility three times as large.

    Using more realistic numbers moves the land-swap options back to the forefront.

    We can continue to debate this all day long, but it won't change the facts: The land-swap is a better deal for Olney.

    I'm sorry if it isn't to the liking of the next door neighbors or a few local "political activists" who won't ever use the park or the school, and don't care about the needs of those who will.

    The land swap puts a park and a school next to each other on Batchellors Forest Road.

    If the neighbors and activists have their way, we will instead have a park and a school next to each other on Batchellors Forest Road.

    The only serious difference is 2 years of our children's lives on a bus. That's why we're fighting.

    Why is everyone else? Money? Principles? Proving that they have power? I really don't get it.

    Troy Kimmel

  22. Also, James Song was asked about the cost of demolition in one of the early presentations. (months ago) He threw out a rough number that I don't remember exactly. I do not believe that it was anywhere close to 1.7 million. However, that is just my recollection and also not and "official" number. Does anyone else remember this and what amount he gave?

  23. @ Mr. Kimmel

    The last time the public (taxpayers) was told something was a win/win/win was the sale of the Peary High School site for pennies to a private school. The taxpayers' lost their shirts, so to speak, and 20 acres of public school land.

    If this deal is such a win/win/win/win etc... then there should be absolutely no problem in making those winning numbers and plans public, right?

    Asking questions and getting answers (and documentation) is part of the democratic process. Foreign as that is to Montgomery County, it is done routinely in other areas of the country.

  24. I would be interested to know the normal margin of error on these estimates to begin with. I 'm willing to bet that it is significantly higher than the differences that we are looking at here. With margin of error factored in, all of these estimates become effectively the same. This means that the discussion/debate can move on to other aspects of the issue.

  25. When MCPS faked the demolition of Peary High School to the State Department of Education they said the demolition would cost $460,000. Course that number was actually from the mid 1990's and the Peary High School building was never actually demolished.


  26. @Troy Kimmel

    "The only serious difference is 2 years of our children's lives on a bus. That's why we're fighting."

    That is the only serious difference for you and the parents of Farquhar Middle School. The actions, inaction and precedents set affect the entire county on a going forward basis.

    If everything is above board, let's see the comments submitted to Dr. Song and Mr. Marhamati, let's see the documents submitted to the BOE, let's see the behind the scenes dealings between the agencies, let's see how the cost estimates were actually derived.

    Instead, MPIA and FOIA requests are being denied/ignored and a broken process continues...

  27. @Troy Kimmel

    Sorry for being late the party.

    If you are implying we're hiding, I think you're mistaken.

    We have been at all meetings since we were made aware of the relocation, spoken with same reporters you have and submitted written and signed comments at all the same meetings.


    Tom Hyde

  28. Janis,
    I completely agree that everything needs to be in the open. When MCPS first presented this modernization plan they asserted that the ONLY feasible options involved busing to Tilden. All of these other options are the result of exactly what you are a proponent of; The fight has been for exploring other options and getting real numbers on the specific costs of each component of these options. There has been a lot of pushing and public info requests for months and months from members of the coalition to attain this information. To be honest, the coalition was likely prepared for a fight to spend a little more money to protect the children's interests. The fact that the expenditures for MCPS will be the same or less is a fortuitous bonus really. In addition, while their budget may be separate from MCPS, the fact that MNCPPC will ALSO be able to ultimately save money in the equation is a bonus for MoCo taxpayers as well.

    If there is some potential area of significant hidden or faked expense by MCPS, by all means ferret it out.
    I don't think anyone wants a decision to be based on erroneous information. The Farquhar Coalition has done it's best to make sure that this is not the case. It would not be in their interests to find out at the 11th hour that they had been proponents of a land swap option based on faulty precepts.

  29. @ Mr. Hanson:

    Here's an example of one cost overrun...this was an elementary school...

    ...Court documents filed in November 2006 accused McKissack and McKissack, a D.C.-based architecture and engineering firm, of nearly $8 million in cost overruns, designs out of compliance with state and local code, and delays resulting in forced overtime.
    Total construction costs for the school, now in its second year of operation, exceeded $20 million and because of design flaws will require more money for upkeep, the complaint said. In all, the district demanded a $10 million settlement plus interest and fees.
    In its defense, lawyers for the architects said a variety of factors contributed to increased costs, particularly design changes requested by the schools.


  30. @ Mr. Hanson -

    Just down the road is another Feasibility Study going on. That one in the BCC Cluster. What's interesting is that some of the participants in that process would like to discuss other locations for the BCC#2 Middle School. They have not been allowed to do that as far as I know.

    Keeping in mind that we have just one very large public school system, it is very interesting to see a Feasibility Study turned in to a Site Selection in another part of the County.

  31. No doubt there are often significant overruns. But I don't understand what you are proposing as a solution to this. Is there some evidence or suggestion that one of the proposed options would for some reason have more or less overruns than another? This seems to be a completely separate issue from which option is better for the Farquhar Modernization.

    I also am not familiar with the details of the B-CC study. Therefore, I am not sure of it's relevance to this issue. If anything, this Farquhar process may help them. They could point to Farquhar as precedent to open up their discussion in the way they want.

    I guess it all depends on how you choose to look at things. We got a lot of help from people that had been involved in the Seven Locks fiasco and I'm sure that many of us would be happy to "pa it forward" and advise the B-CC people in their efforts.

  32. What saddens me so is once again people give lip service to how much we love our children, but make the big picture the lowest priority. The fact that thousand's of lives will be impacted for years is not as important as some individual's view. The children being forced to travel to a building that will be demolished after they leave , and their parents and siblings who will be affected by this should be the number one priority.

  33. @ Mr. Hanson

    Exactly, this is one public school system - not a whole bunch of little school systems that happen to be next to each other. What's going on in one part of the county does not exist in a bubble.

    It's time for communities to peek their heads out of their neighborhoods and take a look at what is going on. We are all part of the same county system and our tax dollars fund the whole system, not just little parts.

    Just like the next comment from Ms. Rosenblum. Suddenly sad when students have been bused all over the county during modernizations for years? But until it hits your child, it doesn't exist?

    These are the Board of Education members that have been elected by the majority of voters in this county. This is who you voted for.
    This IS the way they treat children. All the time!
    Where you been?

  34. @Renee
    I think you will find that anyone really fighting the land swap has an ulterior motive. And I don't mean ulterior motive necessarily in a nefarious way. For instance, the Hyde's motive is that they perceive a negative impact on their quality of life. I don't think that anyone can blame them for that outlook at all. Land swap proponents, whether they have children affected or not, are considering the negative impact on a few thousand area families. I think it's fair to say that there a a few that must have a financial or some other less noble stake in the situation. (at least I can't formulate any other rational explanation for their adamance).

    In this case, we seem to be at that happy circumstance where the greater good for the community as a whole is not more expensive, or harmful in some other way. As you lament, it can become sad when this conflict does exist and we are forced to witness this unfortunate lack of sensible priorities.

  35. @ Mr. Hanson -

    Here's are my questions:

    Do you support the Board of Education having different procedures/Policies for different parts of the county?

    And if you perceive something wrong with a Board of Education process/Policy, what will you be doing to correct this problem for all public school children?


  36. I don't profess to be in a position to devote myself to full time activism, however, I do try to make my opinions directly known to elected officials fairly often. You might be surprised to find that some of those issues did not directly affect me or my family, I just felt that the a situation was unjust. I also try to speak with my vote the best that I can. I will readily admit that I have not been able to find the time to be involved in every single instance of county, state, or national business that I perceived to be misguided. In fact, I haven't even been involved in most of them.

    All of that being said, it is off point as to this issue. What is the right thing for the community, the kids, the county, etc. in this situation? That's the question at hand, not whether I or someone else was personally involved enough in some past or present issue. I don't disagree with your point, I am just not sure how to effectively relate it to this discussion regarding the Farquhar Modernization issue.

  37. @Janis,

    I am not sure exactly how to answer those questions as I would have to see the specific policy that you may be referring to.

    I will say, that being a partial participant in the Farquhar issue, has, to this point, improved my overall outlook on the communities ability to come together and work together with MCPS and the BOE to right a potential wrong.

    I am aware of and dismayed by some of what you refer to as the way that the BOE and MCPS have operated, but hopefully the Farquhar process can be an example of how things can be done in a manner benefiting the children.

    The final outcome remains to be seen, but hopefully this can be a bright spot.

  38. Tom,

    I never stated or implied that you or your family has been hiding - I've been at so many meetings with your family now that such a claim would be absurd!

    I'm certain we'll see each other again soon.

    Troy Kimmel

  39. Yeah - - - I sympathize with the homeowners who will have the school moved closer to them. The rest of the objections seem extremely process-oriented. While I agree that process is important in an open democracy, so is time, money and results. How often do we decry the waste of time and money on endless study and debate over obvious decisions? The numbers are out. The results are obvious (there will be a school on one side of the road and a park on the other). Unless you are concerned about driving safety due to the confusion of those who swear the "school used to be over there," and make erratic turns, stop throwing process in the way of a good decision made in admirable time by a government we often criticize for being ponderous. If you have legitimate evidence of numbers disparity, detrimental environmental impacts, or some serious factual objection, please raise it. Otherwise, you are elevating process above common sense. Normally that is the government's job. In this case, where the government has moved expeditiously and judiciously, lets not get in its way.

    Ken Smith

  40. @ Mr. Smith

    So don't let the process get in the way? OK - so how does that work for the county as a whole if process is never followed?

    Jerry Weast moved expeditiously to shut down Monocacy Elementary School. Should that community have just let him do it, even though his decision making was done completely out of the Long Range Planning process for schools?

    Ike Leggett and the County Council moved expeditiously (and out of the public view) to sell off 20 acres of public school land for pennies to a private entity. That worked for...?

    And Ike Leggett and the Board of Education moved expeditiously to transfer 20 acres of public school land to a private club - mowing down the Open Meetings Laws in the process. Should we encourage that kind of quick thinking?

    You say the numbers are out. Then let's see them. Please post a link to all of the data including demolition costs. Thanks.

  41. Janis - these are all egregious misuses of public land that you mention. Fortunately the Farquhar land swap involves no such sleight of hand. We're getting a new park and a school, just like the Olney Master Plan recommends.

    Troy Kimmel

  42. Troy,

    No, they are not egregious misuses of public land! They are business as usual in Montgomery County!

    Haven't you been paying attention? Rules, procedures, laws - all optional in MoCo when it comes to public schools.

  43. If the land-swap goes through as hundreds upon hundreds of us hope it will, this will be a great benefit for those of us with middle school and high school kids who play sports that currently use the park and school fields. As it stands now, the park land situated between the Hyde family and Farquhar Middle School is currently undeveloped. But, it will be developed in the future once there is money in the Parks budget to develop it. Once it is developed the park will include playing fields for games such as cricket, soccer, softball, and baseball. I would be delighted to start our day at 7:30 a.m. in Olney at that park instead of 7:30 a.m. in Gaithersburg or Germantown. But, if the land-swap does not occur such development will take some time as the Parks budget does not include development funds for this particular piece of park land. However, if the land-swap does occur, it will be a great benefit to our community. Playing fields will be developed. With the result that in as little as 2-3 years we will have more fields for OBGC to rent for our children to use. We will have the Farquhar fields located at the rebuilt school and the fields developed on the land-swap park land. Either way we are getting fields on Batchelors Forrest road its just a matter of time as to when we get them. Will the fields be available while my kids are still young enough to use them or will they be available 5-10 years from now for the next generation to use? I hope the land-swap goes through as I believe we could use more playing fields now and the land-swap brings this hope to reality.

  44. Are you ready for some football, or baseball, or field hockey, soccer, or tennis? How about frisbee, walking the dog, having a picnic? I am! I am also excited that Olney is so close to getting much needed new facilities. Anyone else?

  45. And the money is coming from where? Walt Disney?

  46. Since Parks doesn't have the money. I would assume that would be part of their negotiation with MCPS. Too bad neither the building demo or cost of turnover made its way into the feasibility budget.

  47. http://www.gazette.net/article/20110921/NEWS/709219544/1095/1095/school-board-approves-farquhar-middle-school-land-swap&template=gazette

    Well there you have it.. The Superintendent and Dr. Song lied, on record, repeatedly about the ownership of the parcel. Dr. Song's assertion that that property could be acquired quickly (The end of the year??) was predicated on Parks already owning the property. And, in no small part, the BOE's action was predicated on a truncated timeline for the swap. There is an old saying about garbage in and the resulting by-product..

    Basing these decisions on false information is ultimately going to result in the the county spending money working towards an unachievable goal..

    Keep in mind that the fall back option is busing the kids to Tilden!

    Maybe it is time to start looking at an on-site modernization before county, state and possibly federal funds are lost.

  48. @ Troy Kimmel
    Could you please clarify your earlier comment that the property had already been re-titled to Parks. Is the Gazette reporter incorrect in saying the property is still owned by Pulte?
    Thank you.

  49. The video of the September 13, 2011, Board of Education meeting where MCPS Director of Facilities was asked directly about the ownership of the land that is the subject of the swap has now been made public at this link:


  50. I used google maps to measure the distance from the side of the Hyde's house to where I thought the property boundary was for the intended build-site. It is approximately 88 feet. This is a minimum distance from the Hyde's house to the property line. I then used the feasibility study and drawing scale to estimate that it is 50 feet from the Hyde's property line to the edge of the proposed asphalt parking lot in the feasibility diagram. Conservatively, I would place the distance from the Hyde's house to the edge of non-grass area at around 138 feet minimum. The drawings suggest that the distance from the Hyde's house to the closest edge of the proposed school building to be approximately 200 feet.

    I'm not sure how the Hyde's arrived at their calculation of 65 feet in their letter.

    Google also suggested that the distance to Good Counsel's football field (from the closest corner of the Hyde's house to what I believe is Good Counsel's property line) is 208 feet.

    This comparison is not quite apples vs oranges but helps directionaly suggest comparative distances.


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