Local: Education

Montgomery County residents fighting school district on school site

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Local,Maryland,Education,Kate Jacobson,Montgomery County

Montgomery County residents are fighting a plan to build a new middle school in a Kensington neighborhood park, and announced they will file an appeal on a recent court ruling clearing the way for the county to destroy the park.

John Robinson, president of the Rock Creek Hills Citizens' Association, said the group filed a notice of appeal on a recent court decision backing MCPS. Robinson declined to talk specifically about the appeal, but said the matter has gone on for some time and the neighborhood feels there was an error in judgment.

The 13.4 acres in question on Saul Road has been at the center of the dispute between neighbors and the district. MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig said the district owns that land as a school site, and gave it over to the Parks Department under the condition it would have it back if they needed to build a school.

Janis Sartucci, member of the Montgomery County Parents' Coalition, said the county and the district have not been open or transparent with community members about the land usage. Residents have a right to be angry, she said, because placing a large middle school in that spot would disrupt the neighborhood and residents feel they haven't been heard through the process.

"It's natural that we're having head-butting over the decisions," she said. "[MCPS has] taken these very important neighborhood decisions and taken it away from the people that live there."

Other residents have taken to the Internet to gather support -- including to raise funds to save the park -- and have repeatedly testified in front of the Planning Board and MCPS to stop the destruction of the park. James Pekar, a resident of the neighborhood, is spearheading an effort to raise money for legal fees.

Local musician and Montgomery County resident Marcy Marxer urged friends to donate money for the cause, calling the fight over the land a "quality of life" issue.

Tofig said that he was not aware of the appeal, but the district did not do anything illegal when getting the land back from the Parks Department.

"We were very careful about making sure we laid everything out so we could get [the land] transferred back to us," he said.

With a growing student population, Tofig said, the school is necessary, and keeping the property tied up in court is deterring the districts ability to accommodate students. But residents say they want it maintained as a park.

Residents said the transfer of land from MCPS to the county Parks Department violated federal law. District Court Judge Ronald Rubin ruled in April that neither MCPS or the Parks Department violated any laws.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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