by Liam Kennedy ’21 and Sarah Nove ’20
MCPS school buildings range from brand new to over a century old. Through the years, students have grown and flourished –– the buildings, however, have not aged quite so gracefully. Many school buildings are fighting off decay and disrepair, and, despite the hard work of the maintenance staff, some are losing that battle.
Seneca Valley soon will stand as a contrast to these deteriorating buildings as it is in the beginning phases of the construction of a new school building to open at the start of the 2020-2021 school year. The project, a result of a growing student population in the Germantown area, is meant to alleviate projected overutilization of Seneca Valley, along with the nearby Clarksburg and Northwest High Schools. Built in 1974, the school currently has 1,198 students enrolled, while Clarksburg and Northwest have 2,148 and 2,508 students enrolled, respectively.
The new Seneca Valley building will look dramatically different than Sherwood, constructed in 1950. This new four-story building will span 440,000 square feet, house 2,400 students, and become the largest school building in the state of Maryland. The building will contain 110 classrooms and 36 more support areas and will have updated technology in the classrooms, including a full-building wireless connection and interactive whiteboard systems.
Where Seneca Valley will be shiny and new, other buildings around the county are struggling to stay standing. MCPS finished repairs to Wheaton after a pipe burst in February, which caused damage to the school’s main stairwell. The cause of the downpour was a frozen sprinkler. The aging pipes only exacerbated the problem, as the old, stagnant liquid was “black [and] smelly,” as reporter Kevin Lewis for ABC7 called it. The school still held classes, though some students complained that the strong odor emitted by the water was distracting and caused headaches.
This is not the first incident of major flooding in an MCPS building. In the summer of 2017, Sherwood flooded due to a dated drainage system, which failed to keep water at bay during a summer storm. The flood left surface mold in several classrooms, including room G236, where all carpeted sections of the floor had to be replaced with tile.
Other examples of poor infrastructure at Sherwood can be found at nearly every turn. Bathrooms seem to have consistently broken or malfunctioning sinks and toilets. The hallways do not allow for easy flow, seen in the intersection at the G, E, and F hallways and the A hall. The last major renovation at Sherwood –– the addition of the K-wing –– happened more than ten years ago, and even that hallway experiences occasional backups around lunchtime, when students leave the cafeteria and head to class.
At schools like Poolesville, narrow hallways, paired with overcrowding, has led some parents to worry for their children’s safety in the event of an emergency, according to Fox 5 News. Poolesville junior AJ Poore agreed, calling the school “cramped.” The building itself has areas that are over a half-century old, and it shows. Leaky ceilings and asbestos warning stickers reveal how the building has eroded over the years.
“Poolesville is falling apart … and every time they schedule it to be rebuilt, it’s pushed further back,” said Poore. “We had a leak last year for about two months.” In an effort to fix these critical problems, MCPS has recommended a major capital project for Poolesville, whether that be in the form of drastic renovations or a new building. The possibility will be revisited next year when, if approved, funding will be allocated towards planning and construction.
Heating and air conditioning continue to be a problem throughout the county, as well. Last January, Bethesda Magazine reported on faulty heating systems at Richard Montgomery which only heated the school to about 49 degrees. “It’s an old HVAC system, and some really cold temperatures … have caused some issues,” said MCPS spokesperson Derek Turner to Bethesda Magazine.
In an effort to bring other county schools up to the new Seneca Valley standards, MCPS is initiating a renovation of Northwood, including new classrooms as part of an overall facility upgrade. Finally, MCPS is entertaining the possibility of reopening and revitalizing Charles W. Woodward High School, which closed in 1987, in North Bethesda as a holding school, similar to Northwood’s function up until its reopening in 2004.