School overcrowding as a result of the massive wave of development underway in Bethesda is a common concern among area residents.
With more than a dozen apartment or condominium projects planned or under construction (and new ones popping up as the economy recovers from the recent recession) the effect of more population on area roads and schools is almost constantly at the forefront of development discussions.
At an October meeting to discuss a potential expansion at already overcrowded Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, parents questioned the Montgomery County Public School system’s ability to gauge how many new students will enter the system from a new apartment building.
Bruce Crispell, chief of long-range planning for MCPS, said his staff bases predictions for how many students will enter the system on Planning Department surveys and adjusts numbers annually based on their own observations about different sorts of apartment buildings, varied by number of units, affordability and other factors.
The current ratio for new elementary school students from a new apartment building, for instance, is a .042 multiplier per housing unit. So Crispell would predict four new elementary students to come from 100 units in a new apartment building. The current middle school and high school ratios are similar.
At the October meeting, one parent brought up an apartment project in the Walt Whitman High School cluster that she claimed brought more than 60 new students into the system, far past the predicted single-digit number.
“As I look in my recent occupancy studies, if anything some of the more recent projects in the Bethesda [Central Business District] are even lower than those rates,” Crispell said. “These are fairly expensive housing units in an area with very valuable land. You’ll find a very limited number of bedrooms in most of these projects. They are predominantly either for empty nesters or urban types who maybe have kids on the way and are planning to move out to more traditional suburban housing later.
“There are of course some who have the money and will raise their kids there,” Crispell said. “But just intuitively, you can see the rates of new students there are lower than the rates you get from single family home neighborhoods.”
In the Woodmont Triangle area alone there are a projected 2,100 new housing units on the way, according to a development map from the Bethesda Chevy Chase Regional Services Center. Even more growth is planned for North Bethesda, where White Flint development has MCPS officials asking a developer to donate land for a new elementary school.
At B-CC, where expansion discussions are in a preliminary feasibility study stage, Crispell predicts the school will be about 600 students over capacity by 2018. An expansion, featuring an array of new classrooms and learning spaces, would have to be part of next fall’s bi-annual Schools Capital Improvements Budget request.
Crispell says if the expansion is included in next year’s CIP it should be able to be built by 2017, in time to accomodate that growth.
“This growth at the high school level is not unique at B-CC,” Crispell said. “What is unique is it sort of hit earler at the high school level there then it did in other areas. It’s just, the pressure is strongest at B-CC earlier.”