Wootton building renovation reconsidered by MCPS Board of Education at Nov. 8 hearing

Hannah Ho, Design Editor

How long can a school be neglected before it is renovated?
When talking about this school, the answer seems to be quite a long time. Some students say it won’t happen until the building poses a physical threat to its students while others say it will happen when the building itself crumbles.

On Nov. 8 at 5 p.m., the Board of Education (BOE) held a public hearing at Carver Educational Services Center Auditorium (CESC) about this school’s renovation.The main goal of the hearing was for people of the Wootton community to show the school board that the Wootton Cluster needs the Wootton renovation put back on the schedule for funding and completion.The entire cluster (Travilah, Dufief, Lakewood, Stone Mill, Cold Spring, Cabin John, Frost and Wootton) community members, children, neighbors and friends were strongly encouraged to attend and participate in the hearing. As an incentive, Wootton cluster students in grades 6-12 in attendance received Student Service Learning (SSL) hours.

Waiting to be renovated

Built in 1970, this is one of the oldest high schools in Montgomery County that has not been renovated yet. Wootton has been on the schedule for a renovation for nine years and has been continuously delayed. Wootton was originally next in line for renovation after Seneca Valley, which is being completed now. The superintendent and school board decided that there is no longer a list and they will come up with a new system to decide what facilities are renovated, but they are not publicly disclosing their criteria.

According to the Superintendent’s Capital Improvements Plan, a number of clusters have had every cluster school built in the 1970s or earlier renovated, such as Whitman, Churchill, Walter Johnson, Richard Montgomery, Rockville and Bethesda-Chevy Chase. The Wootton cluster has the largest number of schools built in the 1970s that have not been renovated. Feeling left behind, students wonder what needs to be done in order for the building to be renovated. “At this point, I think it would be fun to see how long we could postpone this renovation just to see how long the school lasts,” senior Will Fowler said.

There are different aspects of the school in need of repair that have been put off or have only had a temporary solution, knowing that a renovation was imminent. The chiller broke last year and it was so old that parts were not available to be replaced anymore. A new part had to be manufactured and while the school waited months for that, a loud rental cooler was hooked up jetting out in the parking lot at significant expense. As a result of the poor ventilation system, ventilation units in select classrooms produce loud humming sounds and high ringing noises, which are distracting in a learning environment. “It is very disruptive, especially when trying to finish an in-class essay or understand the opening few acts of Hamlet after re-reading them for the fourth time,” senior Liam Hall said.

Deteriorating building is apparent

Beyond the ventilation problem, the deteriorating building is apparent in many areas around the school. The bathrooms have leaky faucets and hand-dryers that don’t work. There has also been a case where the radiator broke and spilled water everywhere. For the performing arts students who need to practice behind and on the stage, the ceiling above the stage broke off last year, with bits and pieces falling on students who were trying to pull back the curtains. Although that section of the ceiling has been fixed this year, it is only a matter of time before the next accident in this old school.

Students junior Monica Godnick, senior Liam Hall, senior Dejah Lockett, senior Olivia Nzang, senior Morgan Obiezue and sophomore Valerie Zhao testified at the Board of Education hearing. “I thought that our school was really old and needed an update, and any chance I could get to advocate for that, I wanted to take. MCPS has also been taking a lot of steps to try to improve the mental health of its students after the suicides last year, but I think they fail to remember that the environment you spend your time in also has a big impact on how you feel. A renovation would be beyond just comfort; parts of the school are dangerous or not up to standards and I don’t even know how our county even finds that to be acceptable. I know that RM has a really nice campus too, and that they’ve had multiple renovations recently, so MCPS is basically telling us that we should have lower standards of an educational environment,” Zhao said. “We’ve been promised renovations before just for them to be pushed back over and over again. At the board meeting there were a ton of Wootton people supporting the cause but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. They’ll probably just renovate RM again.”

Wootton has safety issues

Wootton has safety issues with the footprint of the school, which were to be addressed with the renovation. For one, there is no designated area for only school buses to drop off and pick up. The buses line up at the front of the school and students pass between the buses to catch the ride-on bus, walk home and walk to their cars.There have been a couple instances of near-misses. The faculty parking lot also shares the same area. In the case of an emergency, fire and ambulance would not be able to get through during drop off in the morning and dismissal in the afternoon.

Cluster representatives met with the City of Rockville about suspected ADA compliance violations outside the school. The City hired a consultant and published their findings that there are 89 violations. For example, the bridge between Frost and Wootton, which is an evacuation route for both schools as well as a daily path to and from Frost for students, is not ADA compliant. The stadium, sidewalks around the building, athletic field access for emergency vehicles and spectators and concrete steps outside the cafeteria all have ADA compliance issues too. The sharp declines in front of the school were built before the school’s special education program was implemented. Now that there are special education programs and students with physical handicaps, the school needs to address the new needs. This is why the school footprint is addressed and moves the entrance of the school to the side facing the stadium in the 2015 feasibility study.

Board lacks appropriate funding

At the hearing, Wootton had a stellar showing with over 100 people, the majority of whom were students. Concluding the hearing, the overall outcome of the board was that they do not have enough money to do everything needed and that parents need to advocate at the county and state level for more funding. To address the funding issue, the Board has a Capital Improvement Program (CIP) work session on Nov. 15 from 3-8 p.m.. Looking at the root of the problem, a lot of people suspect that there is a bias against Wootton in which board members voted and passed the policy weighing diversity as the most important factor in boundaries on the BOE business meeting on Sept. 24. “I think that a renovation would be extremely useful and is necessary but I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon unfortunately,” senior Akansha Goswami said.

Looking forward, students are frustrated with the fluctuating decisions to renovate this school and doubt that the school will be renovated in the near future. “As the Board of Education seems to keep changing their mind about our renovation, I feel like this pattern will continue. As big of a problem as it is though, it won’t impact the current seniors anyways so we all good,” senior Caitlynn Li said.