Montgomery County planners and Planning Board members discuss their objections to a proposed plan for a new elementary school in Clarksburg with MCPS officials. Credit: Screenshot via livestream

The Montgomery County Planning Board last week formally objected to the school district’s plan for a new elementary school, criticizing the district’s site design — a building in the middle of a lot, surrounded by parking and fields.

Planners said this strategy keeps a school removed from its neighborhood, yet MCPS has used it in “every proposed school site for the past” five years.

The long-anticipated new elementary school, in Clarksburg, is intended to relieve crowding in nearby schools and accommodate new residential development. It was one of five new elementary schools planned as part of the long-range plan for the community.

It is expected to cost about $38 million and enroll 720 students.

In a tense meeting on Thursday, Montgomery County Planning Board members objected to plans for the elementary school. They said MCPS has again disregarded their guidance that school buildings be positioned closer to a road, with parking lots, athletic fields and playgrounds on the sides or tucked behind.

The designs for the elementary school, like many other school projects, show the school building in the middle of the nearly 10-acre lot, with parking and bus loops at the front and fields behind.


“The problem is that MCPS continues to bring proposed school buildings to us that repeatedly do the same thing over and over again, which we keep telling them not to do,” Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson said. “What we keep asking to do is bring the building to the street and don’t put parking in front of the building, but for some reason, we keep getting these projects and they have the same problem.”

The Planning Board voted to oppose the project plans, but the vote is not legally binding, Anderson said, and the project could move forward.

However, MCPS is required to “take our direction seriously.”


MCPS Director of Facilities Management Seth Adams said he anticipates the district will hold community meetings to discuss and address planners’ concerns.

Adams said MCPS will likely return to the board with updated plans in “early fall.”

That standard design pitched by MCPS creates a barrier to the community, despite school facilities being intended as amenities for the public, Vice Chair Natali Fani Gonzalez said.


She referenced the county’s ongoing work on “Thrive Montgomery 2050,” a long-range development plan that emphasizes, in part, the need to build communities with stronger ties to residential amenities.

“It goes against everything we’re putting forward in Thrive Montgomery when we say we want to connect with communities,” Fani Gonzalez said. “This building doesn’t do that.”

In explaining her vote to oppose the plans, she added: “I think it’ll take some radical changes within MCPS for them to get it, and that’s not going to happen today.”


During the meeting, Adams argued that the district is, in fact, listening to the Planning Board’s feedback about school designs, but “this particular project is one that does not necessarily fit into all the conversations we’ve been having.”

He said MCPS has a document from 2008 that “lays out the building and parking lot” the same as the district’s submitted design.

“I’m concerned that this intent about designing around parking and building location met the master plan in 2008 and now all of a sudden it doesn’t,” Adams said. “… I do feel strongly we are going to be pushing and bringing very innovative designs to the Planning Board, but this one has been in a state of review and discussion and some levels of approval for the past 15 years, and this is very much a stark change.”


Anderson said the document Adams was referring to was not intended to be taken literally. Rather, he said, it was intended to mark the general location of the future school site.

He told Adams during Thursday’s meeting that he doesn’t understand why MCPS continues to submit plans with similar layouts. He said planners have raised the same concerns about recent projects at E. Brooke Lee Middle School, Charles W. Woodward High School and Northwood High School.

“We have beat our head against the wall to try to get you to move buildings to the street,” Anderson said. “That’s what we’re looking for. Move the buildings to the street.”


An alternate design proposed by the planning staff moved the front of the building from near Dunlin Street to Byrne Park Drive, the fields to Dunlin Drive, and parking away from the entrance.

Adams said MCPS “can certainly explore” that option, or moving the entrance closer to Dunlin Street instead, but the parking lot might then encroach on the adjacent park, “which I don’t think is necessarily a great design.”

The new Clarksburg elementary school will enroll students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade and is scheduled to be completed in 2023.


Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at