When the Montgomery County school system decided to replace the aging Seven Locks Elementary School, some Bethesda residents became concerned over the fate of not only the school, but also the land on which it sat. There had been speculation that the property might be turned over to the county and developed for housing.
But those residents have received some welcome news from School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast and the school board.
This month, Weast told parents in the Seven Locks area that there were no plans to relinquish the 10-acre campus once a replacement school opens nearby in August 2007.
On Thursday, the school board reaffirmed that position in its vote on the capital budget, the blueprint for school construction.
"There has been much speculation about the future of the school site once the replacement site on Kendale Road is completed in 2007," Weast said at the school board meeting. "I want to assure the community this evening by going on record and stating that there are no plans to surplus the current Seven Locks school site now, and during my tenure as superintendent of schools, I will not recommend any such surplusing of that school site."
Sandy Vogelgesang, one of the leaders of the Seven Locks residents coalition, said the group welcomed Weast's comments but are hoping for more action.
"This is a good first step," she said. But she added that the group would like the school system to form a task force to brainstorm possibilities for the site once it becomes vacant.
School officials say it is premature to take such action.
"We're two years from deciding what to do with that property," said Richard Hawes, director of the school system's Department of Facilities Management. "Until we're sure that kids are at the new school, we're not going to make a recommendation about Seven Locks."
The Seven Locks group has been particularly vocal about the fate of its elementary school campus, currently home to 250 students. Initially, the school system planned to add on to the campus, but it scrapped that idea in favor of building a campus at nearby Kendale Road, which could accommodate more students and ease crowding at Potomac Elementary School. That left open the possibility that Seven Locks could be a site for the county to build affordable housing.
Vogelgesang's group believes that it would be better to expand Seven Locks and Potomac and scrap plans for a new school.
In October 2003, County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) wrote to Weast asking that the school system declare three undeveloped sites surplus and turn them over to the county for the purpose of building affordable housing. But Weast and school board members have been reluctant to do that in case they would be needed in the future.
-- Lori Aratani