Sunday, September 28, 2008

Planners approve two school additions - Gazette

Takoma Park, East Silver Spring elementaries to expand to relieve overcrowding at Piney Branch

by Jeremy Arias | Staff Writer |Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008

The Montgomery County Planning Board tentatively approved measures Thursday allowing two area elementary schools to make additions to their facilities beginning in the summer of 2009.

The board voted unanimously in favor of Montgomery County Public Schools' plans to add about 30,000 square feet to East Silver Spring Elementary at 631 Silver Spring Ave. and renovate 3,857 square feet of the building. Takoma Park Elementary School at 7511 Holly Ave. will get a 34,995-square-foot addition.

Both measures passed with minimal debate, but as mandatory referrals the hearings were nonbinding steps in the process toward the start of construction. The Planning Board will pass its recommendations back to the county school system and possibly the County Council for final review, according to Planning Board spokeswoman Valerie Berton.

The East Silver Spring campus presented the $10.8 million addition project in order to accommodate about 150 additional students by 2013. The school plans to shift from a pre-kindergarten through second-grade facility to include grades 3 and 5.

A two-story addition to the north side of the building will include kindergarten classes and a two-story addition to the east side will hold classrooms and music space. In all, eight classrooms will be added to the school and the addition will total about 30,000 square feet.

The parking lot just north of the school will be increased from 32 spaces to 52 and a reconfigured drop-off loop will contain 36 spaces.

"I don't mind saying that I agree that you should be doing this," said board member Jean Cryor. "I'm particularly pleased that you're [trying] to make this a better school by making it more than a K-2 school."

Principal Adrienne Morrow said the chance to retain students past the second grade would help ensure the students' success in middle school.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to work very closely with our students," she said. "To instill in them the skills they need to be successful when it comes to math acceleration, reaching benchmarks for reading as well as to prepare our students to be proficient for [the Maryland State Assessment tests]."

While Takoma Park will remain a pre-kindergarten through second-grade school, both additions aim to relieve overcrowding at nearby Piney Branch Elementary School, according to MCPS officials.

An 11,200-square-foot, four-classroom annex building at Takoma Park Elementary will be demolished to make way for an addition to the rear of the school. The school currently has eight portable classrooms, which will be replaced by four play areas, according to the site plan. Sixteen regular classrooms, plus speech support, English for Speakers of Other Languages and other support space will be included in the addition, which will total about 35,000 square feet.

Access to the school will be modified with a parent pick-up/drop-off area off Holly Avenue just north of the school and a new bus loop off Holly Avenue south of the school. A total of 82 parking spaces and five buses will be accommodated on the site.

Project Manager Ray Marhamati said the $13.8 million Takoma Park addition will require students and staff to relocate to the Grosvenor Center, a temporary holding site set up by the school system, for the duration of the construction from the summer of 2009 through the following summer.

Some debate arose when Takoma Park resident and school alumni Ian Barclay protested the decision to remove a large magnolia tree near the main entrance of Takoma Park Elementary. MCPS and city officials said three arborists had examined the tree and concluded that it would be impossible to transplant.

"All their supposed experts I'd bet you have never been involved in a large-scale tree transplant," Barclay said. He cited the example of a tree that was transplanted from a schoolyard in Alabama.

The board opted to avoid a prolonged debate by adding a condition to the agreement requiring MCPS to consult another arborist to examine the tree. All in all, Marhamati said the referrals went well.

"We're doing the best we can to provide for environmental concerns, to be good neighbors and to provide facilities for our students," he said of the school system's plans.

Takoma Park Elementary Assistant Principal Bill Kerlina agreed that the tree was likely a lost cause, but supported the overall addition plans.

"Logistically, it's nice to open up the classrooms for the school to provide a warmer and more open environment by getting [students] out of the trailers," he said. The school currently uses seven temporary classrooms.

Staff Writer Jason Tomassini contributed to this report.

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