News from Montgomery College

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Date: June 13, 2002
Contact: Steve Simon, 240-567-7952; Dave Willingham, 240-567-7970

College Officials Propose Cultural Arts Center Re-siting
Phase III of Montgomery College-Takoma Park Expansion Project,
Center Would be Relocated to Georgia Ave. and East-West Highway

Conceptual rendering of the proposed Cultural Arts Center             Montgomery College's planned cultural arts center, slated as the third phase of a Takoma Park Campus expansion project that just launched phase one, would be relocated to College-owned property at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and East-West Highway in Silver Spring, under a proposal announced this week by College officials. The proposal is now under consideration by the College's Board of Trustees.

Existing plans had called for the cultural arts center to be constructed in a corner portion of Jesup Blair Park, which is located just north of the District of Columbia line. But under the proposed re-siting, the center would be built less than a block to the north, adjacent to the College's planned health sciences center, which is just beginning its construction process.

Construction would not begin on the cultural arts center until after the completion of both the health sciences center -- scheduled for opening in early 2004 -- and a new student services center, expected to open in 2005. Delayed recently due to a deferment of funding for planning and construction, the cultural arts center's construction is now expected to begin in 2006 and be ready for a grand opening in 2008.

            "This is a change that we believe would have a number of advantages," said Dr. Charlene R. Nunley, president of Montgomery College, "not the least of which includes the ability to locate the cultural arts center on a high-visibility corner site, directly on the Georgia Avenue corridor. As a venue for both College and community musical and theatrical productions, this would make the center an even more important component of the new Silver Spring Arts and Entertainment District. We're very enthusiastic about the concept and we look forward to receiving input on the proposed re-siting from both the community and our local and state officials."

Although the cultural arts center site would move under the proposal, a planned pedestrian bridge that will span the Metro and CSX railroad tracks to connect the existing Takoma Park campus to its new portion in south Silver Spring, would still feed into Jesup Blair Park. The pedestrian bridge will not only ensure students and College personnel can safely walk to both the health sciences center and cultural arts center, it will also provide nearby residential neighborhoods with easy access to the park.

The bridge will be built in two phases -- opening first for foot crossing in early 2004, and later extending to include a direct connection to the second floor of the new student services center, when that facility is completed in 2005. The student services center is the only one of the three new Montgomery College buildings that will be built on the Takoma Park side of the campus.

In a letter sent this week to a number of State and County officials, MC President Nunley pointed to a number of factors that have led to the opportunity to revisit the siting of the cultural arts center. Among these, she noted that:

        To preserve trees and to minimize intrusion into Jesup Blair Park, the College had made a variety of changes related to the cultural arts center, when it gained site approval from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, in 2001. The modifications increase the cost of building on that location, however, and could potentially reduce the effectiveness and efficiency of the facility. For example, the center's reconfigured placement, closer to the railroad tracks, and its modified design would make sound-proofing and construction more costly and challenging.

        Zoning changes enacted since the original plan was developed allowed for increased building heights along Georgia Avenue. As a result, the health sciences center -- once expected to be three levels, with a larger overall footprint -- was increased to four stories, using less overall land. This allows for enough room on the adjacent corner location to construct the new cultural arts center.

        The recent designation of the Silver Spring area as an Arts and Entertainment District places new priority on arts facilities and has dramatically increased expectations for the College campus to increase its role as a venue for arts programs and activities. The presence of the cultural arts center on a corner site on the Georgia Avenue corridor will give the center higher visibility.

        When originally conceived, the Takoma Park Campus expansion plan did not incorporate the use of the former Giant bakery building and site, which is strategically located between Jesup Blair Park and the newly proposed corner site for the cultural arts center. Now that the College owns this property, it allows for the creation of a fully connecting link between the current campus and the new properties along Georgia Avenue. Meanwhile, the bakery site itself also provides potential space for additional College programs in the future.

College officials note that they are now seeking input on the cultural arts center re-siting proposal from elected officials and other policymakers, business and community members, neighbors, relevant state and county agencies, and other interested parties.

The proposed re-siting would have to be approved by the Montgomery College Board of Trustees and reviewed by County and State officials, including the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Members of the community who would like to share their input on the proposal, in the meantime, are invited to direct correspondence to: Dr. Clarence Porter, Vice President and Provost, Montgomery College, Takoma Park Campus, 7600 Takoma Avenue, Takoma Park, MD 20912. Comments can also be faxed to 240-567-1315 or e-mailed to: jwells@mc.cc.md.us.

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