Community use of public buildings

or What are schools for, anyway?

Testimony to the Montgomery County Council

30 September 2003

by Paulette Dickerson

What part does a school play in creating and maintaining a sense of place in the community it serves? Besides being centers of learning, schools have traditionally hosted Scouts, Future Farmers of America, CampFire Girls, 4H Clubs, Contra Dance Groups, Music and Art Classes, Seniors Groups... I could go on forever. Schools build bridges in a community that last beyond the tenure of most students.

When a public school "disappears" classroom space is not the only thing that is lost. The opportunities for community building--the scouts, the oldsters doing watercolors or playing bridge, the fledgling musicians and artists that might be developed within the public school as public space are lost, too.

I've lived in the same neighborhood for more than twenty years. When we first moved in there were empty-nesters, a couple of babies (one of them mine), and lots of school-aged kids, most in high school.

There were two little girls who delivered the newspaper to the step just outside our front door every morning before they went to school. There were kids selling holiday paper and chocolate bars for school fundraisers. There were Girls Scouts who sold us cookies and Boy Scouts collecting groceries for Thanksgiving baskets. There were all sizes of Trick-or-Treaters in October... a community of children.

We had a neighbor who had taught at Montgomery Hills Jr. High and another who had been a student there but by the time we moved to our house Montgomery Hills was already being used by a private school.

Over the years the babies and children grew; the empty-nesters became retirees, grew older and died or moved away; new families moved in and the population changed again.

Infill housing has been going into the neighborhood as long as I have been there, too--from side lots that grew new homes to developments with five or more new houses at a time. Sometime soon the National Seminary at Forest Glen will be redeveloped--some plans that have been proposed include more than one hundred units of housing .

While it is possibly true that Montgomery Hills Jr. High is not needed today, September 30, 2003, there are probably enough youngsters within a half mile radius to justify its reuse as a public school within the next five to ten years.

In Los Angeles, the public school system is open for business all year round but that doesn't mean anywhere near 52 weeks of school. The kids in L.A. are like workers splitting shifts on the same factory floor--three quarters on and one quarter off--all year. Why? Because, among other things, there is almost no affordable land for new schools in the entire L.A. basin.

Montgomery County is not that far behind Southern California when we think in terms of traffic, job growth, property values, and school crowding. How we can afford to move a school building from public into private hands for a generation or more?

It might be a mistake for the County to rid itself of an existing school when new school construction is so expensive and when we have already been caught short of funds twice in the last twelve or thirteen years by economic cycles of boom and bust.

It could be a mistake for the County to take a school out of the pipeline when "smart" development is being encouraged... down county... near public transportation... inside the Beltway... where the infrastructure for a denser population is already in place.

It would be a mistake, with development on the near horizon that will double or triple the number of people in the immediate area, to limit the County's ability to use the infrastructure that serves those people.

Thank you.

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe"

H.G. Wells, 1920

Paulette Dickerson P.O. Box 598 Kensington, MD. 20895-0598
Private Citizen / Library Advocate

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E-Mail: "pdickerson (at)"
Paper Mail: Paulette Dickerson, P.O.Box 598, Kensington, MD 20895-0598, USA

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