The controversial closing of Northwood High School in Wheaton and the transfer of its 572 students next fall will create "acute" overcrowding problems at three nearby schools, one of which will reach 101 percent of its operating capacity, according to a report by a top Montgomery County school administrator.
The report, prepared by Associate Superintendent Paul L. Vance after the school board voted March 4 to close the school, does not make any suggestions to reopen Northwood and Vance says his findings are a "preliminary analysis." It was not intended to be a study of whether the closing should be reconsidered, said Ann Briggs, who coordinates facility planning for the Montgomery school system. She added that keeping Northwood open would have cost $13 million more than the renovations needed to expand the schools receiving the transfer students.
The school is scheduled to close in June, despite protests from students and parents.
According to the report, the transfer of Northwood students to the already crowded John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring and Wheaton High School will mean even more congested hallways and cafeterias there and will force school officials to restrict computer classes and add several new portable classrooms.
Kennedy's "utilization" capacity, the official measure of how its facilities are used, will reach 101 percent despite an official county guideline of only 70 to 90 percent, Vance said.
The addition of Northwood students will also lead to overcrowded lunch periods at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, but will have a negligible effect on the larger Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.
Einstein, which has a cafeteria with 400 seats, will probably have three lunch periods of 585 students each, Vance said. He recommended that the school system install 20 new portable classrooms to accommodate new students. Einstein now is scheduled to have only eight new portable units next year.
The county Board of Education has voted three times since 1981 to close Northwood, each vote sparking a furor among the school's teachers and its Wheaton-area parents and students. Neighborhood residents mounted a series of protests to overturn the board's decision, arguing in part that closing Northwood at a time when enrollments were rising would lead to overcrowding in other schools.
Freddie Hodges, who led the fight to keep Northwood open, suggested yesterday that the Vance report proved what she and others had said during the controversy.
"The board didn't see the report prior to the vote to close Northwood," Hodges said. "One of the factors in closing was money and it appears the impacts will cost money."
But school board president Robert E. Shoenberg said the report would not change the board's decision. "We were aware some schools would be overcrowded," he said. "There are certainly problems. It's going to be an awkward situation.
"But it was a choice of going ahead with our plans and having overcrowding for three or four years or ending up with a program that was too small for the comprehensive program people in Montgomery County expect to have," Shoenberg added.
During the debate over Northwood, school officials projected a $9 million cost to renovate the high school, which was built in 1956. Hodges and others countered that the renovation pricetag was inflated.