Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Council to Demolish 600 Seat School without Review of Facts

Ewing School
On Thursday, January 29, 2015, the Montgomery County Council's Education committee will vote on whether or not to rob the Ewing School Center building of it's renovation funding. The Ewing School building has the capacity to hold up to 600 MCPS students.  If the building loses it's renovation funding the building will deteriorate and be demolished. Once demolished, those 600 seats will be lost to MCPS students forever.

Here is an open letter to the Montgomery County Council in response to the Memorandum from Council staff on this issueCouncilmembers will use the staff Memorandum to cast their votes.  Shouldn't Councilmembers have all of the facts before they decide to demolish a usable, paid for, 600 seat public school building?


January 28, 2015

Esteemed Council Members,

I am providing this email to refute much of what [County Council Staff member] Ms. McGuire has provided within her recommendation to the County Council regarding the relocation of the AEP [Alternate Education Program] program to the former English Manor School.

Here are a couple of links for reference:

The COMPLETED Ewing Center Renovations feasibility study (see Option #3) -

Please take these items into account during your work session. At minimum, please ask for concrete proof for what she states.

1) MCPS Attendees for the [January 29, 2015, Education Committee] work session. Only representatives from the Facilities Dept are attending. While they may have some ideas regarding structural issues, they are not the ones who have designed the AEP program and cannot reliably state that their construction plans for English Manor will truly serve the program better. MCPS Administration staff presence is vital for this session.

2) There are no developed construction plans for English Manor, this vote is really around defunding the Ewing School Center. No feasibility studies have been conducted, so any discussion of how much an English Manor renovation would cost is purely speculation. The memo states (on page circled 14) "With the revised AEP, if the architects were to compare the current facility with English Manor, the study would show that English Manor is better suited to support the AEP and would be more cost effective." This is speculation. No concrete documentation has been provided to support this statement.

The memo states that "the approved $16.6 million should be sufficient to make the systematic renovations to English Manor..." "Should be sufficient" is not enough. These funds are proposed for a relatively small number of students, while a much larger number are being put in portable classrooms. In this fiscal climate, "should be sufficient" is irresponsible and should not be allowed.

She repeats Superintendent Starr's assertion that if additional funds are needed, they will be requested in the next CIP. MCPS cannot support their assertions that $16.6 million will be enough for an English Manor renovation as they have not completed any feasibility studies.

3) The proposed approval of funds for an English Manor renovation is for a building that MCPS does not currently own. Ms. McGuire references state law and county regulations in regards to transferring the property back to MCPS, but she does not provide any specific citations. These laws cannot be considered until citations are provided to prove their existence. To the contrary, COMCOR clearly states at section 11B.45.02.03 that the County Executive must activate the schools reuse and must include the community's input.   Also in COMCOR 11B.45.02.04, the Planning Board also must be involved before any action is taken. None of this is included in her memo.

4) No site selection process. Ms. McGuire claims that MCPS looked at other sites for the programs, but a site selection process was NOT conducted. Based on Board Meeting minutes, there does not seem to be any discussion amongst the Board of Education regarding any alternative sites. She needs to provide documentation showing that these other locations were considered as well as what concrete evidence directed them to English Manor (other than the perceived convenience of moving a Bus Depot to the current Ewing location).

5) Ms. McGuire has not included the second Resolution from the Board of Education.  This Resolution was a request to transfer $100,000 of the approved Ewing renovation money to the bus depot Feasibility Study. This needs to be included as those funds are part of what was approved for the Ewing renovations.
Resolved, That the Board of Education requests an amendment to the adopted Fiscal Years     2015–2020 Capital Improvements Program to transfer $100,000 from the approved Blair G. Ewing Center Improvements project to the Facility Planning project to conduct a feasibility study for the redevelopment of the current Blair G. Ewing Center site for the Shady Grove Transportation Depot; and be it further

So in essence, the Council cannot vote on moving $16.6 million to English Manor as $100,000 of that total is being requested to move to the bus depot.

6) The memo is wrongly comparing the potential solutions of English Manor with the EXISTING structure of the Ewing Center. This document needs to compare these solutions with those presented in the completed Ewing renovation feasibility study (link provided above). That study solves all of issues that this memo asserts can only be solved by English Manor. Here are some examples -
  •  A) The memo states that in the current Blair Ewing facility (circled page 15), "the specialty classrooms (Le. art, music, science, drama, and PEl are located in different parts of the facility, which would create more interaction between middle and high school students than desired." Page 41 of the Ewing renovation feasibility study shows that option #3 puts all of these classrooms in the same location, thus eliminating the issue being cited.
  • B) The memo states that (on circled page 14) "In addition, due to the current building layout and multi-levels [of the Ewing Center], it would be difficult to create a clear circulation path or improved supervision .." yet, the plan for English Manor is to locate the students on multiple levels as well. The completed feasibility study for the Ewing renovation states (page 44) "The corridors are able to widen create locker commons. These moves remove the institutional feel of the current building and provide students with 21st Century Learning Environments on par with their home school."
  • C) From a footprint standpoint, this memo states twice that the facility size of English Manor is much smaller than what is required of the AEP program.On circled page 14, "The current Blair Ewing site is approximately 22.5 acres compared to English Manor which is approximately 8.25 acres. The Blair Ewing facility is over 85,000 GSF compared to English Manor which is approximately 50,000 GSF. Based on the student population and program needs for the revised alternative education programs (AEP), approximately 70,000-75,000 GSF is required to support the programs." Also on circled page 15, "Although the current English Manor facility was a former elementary school and the square footage is smaller than what is required for the AEP, the proposed addition would allow MCPS to provide the specialty and career technology education (CTE) classrooms needed to support the program." Considering that the site acreage is significantly smaller than the Ewing property, how is there space to add enough square footage as the memo states is needed? Again, no feasibility study so any statements around English Manor are speculation.
  • D) The memo states (on circled page 15) that each Ewing Center classroom has their own bathrooms. Staff would like these removed. Page 47 of the Ewing renovation feasibility study shows that individual bathrooms have been removed as requested.
6) Ms. McGuire mentions nine testimonials, but does not include them in her memo. Three of the four who testified in support of the plan were MCPS employees under Mr. Starr, and not members of the public. Second, a number of people submitted written testimony against the plan, and this should have been counted as well.
A large number of questions have been raised by the community and virtually none of these have been answered or even addressed in any forum. Hundreds of separate communications, including phone calls, emails and testimony have poured in to the BOE and the County Council.
    1 - No responses have come.
    2 - The 'recommendation' doesn't even acknowledge the numerous questions raised, completely ignoring the overwhelming rejection of this plan by the public.
In reality, the response from the public was overwhelmingly negative and not balanced as the document suggests.

7) No community involvement before the School Board Vote. The memo states (on circled page 15) "The addition would provide a new building elevation to the neighborhood. For all school design projects that MCPS conducts, if the feasibility study is approved, the adjacent neighbors and neighborhood associations would be invited to participate in the feasibility study and subsequent schematic design process to share their concerns and input into the design of the project." Involving the community after the fact, is the equivalent of asking forgiveness rather than permission. That is too little too late for the community.
"Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" (Declaration of Independence). Despite efforts by the BOE to paint another picture, the public is almost uniformly opposed to this plan. In this case, there is no way that it should go forward.

I implore you to push for facts and not the fiction included in that memo. The residents in and around Aspen Hill are vehemently opposed to this plan and you owe it to us to be as thorough as possible when making your decision.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
-David K. Rowden

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