MMS Will Close This Year

Photo Taken Carolyn Cohee.

In a historical decision the Milford School Board of Education decided unanimously to close the Milford Middle School (MMS) at the end of the 2012-1013 school year. The decision included that 6th through 8th grade students will go to Milford Central Academy and 9th through12th grade students will go to Milford High School next year. The original building that appears at the front entrance of the school, adorned with solid pillars on both sides of the doorway, was constructed in 1929, with additional wings added for an increased student population between the 1940s and the 1960s.

The decision of whether or not to close MMS was brought to the public’s attention in October 2012 as Superintendent Phyllis Kohel selected a committee composed of community members to look at the possibility of the closure.Presented at the first committee meeting were two building analysis reports that were performed by Carolyn  A. Cohee, a volunteer construction consultant for the Milford School District, and private architecture and site planning firm French & Ryan, Inc. Both remarked that due to the period of time the building was constructed, many of the building practices that were considered routine are not performed today including materials and construction practices.

Both reports agreed that the existing building is structurally safe for students and staff members at this current time but included data that confirmed the extensive damage to the interior and exterior building that in their estimation must be dealt with soon. According to Superintendent Phyllis Kohel, the Department of Education has also made it clear that Milford’s Middle School has aged out of its functional use and that any major construction would not be funded by the State of Delaware.

There were concerns heard from Board members and the public after the proposal to close MMS was brought to the Board on Monday night. Board member Herman Cohee shared his concerns by asking Superintendent Kohel about crowding issues the school district would have by moving from 7 schools to 6.

“It will be tight and we may have to move some classrooms into modulars,” commented Dr. Kohel. “We hope to not have an exceptional amount of floating teachers across schools.” Dr. Kohel also commented that the longterm goals may include “talking to the Board for possible referendums for several options” to help with overcrowding problems. When asked to elaborate on these statements, Kohel stated that the District is already in talks with the University of Delaware to perform another population study, the first step of any school referendum that includes expansion.

“If the district continues to grow I can see the Milford Central Academy and Milford High School becoming crowded,” commented Kohel. “In the future if we maintain the Central Academy as sixth through eighth grade we may need to think about adding an additional wing.”

Milford parent Brandi Nowakowski shared her concerns with the Board of Education about middle school students merging with high school students due to the close proximity of the Milford Central Academy and the Milford High School.

“As a mother of children close to 6th grade we were concerned with them being around eighth graders next year,” commented Ms. Nowakowski. “All I can say about this decision now is wow; now we have to be concerned about our sixth graders being close to upperclassmen. How are you going to make me, as a parent, feel comfortable about the children and their safety.”

Superintendent Phyllis Kohel addressed the concern by stating that “when the group of children go to the Milford Central Academy from Milford Middle School the two schools [Milford High School and Milford Central Academy] will be completely separate. Students will not be in proximity with each other.” Dr. Kohel also stated that to achieve this, “more than likely there will have to be an hour delay between Milford Central Academy and the Milford High School.” This would mean that students, parents and teachers in these two schools may have to adjust again to new start times in the 2013-2014 school year.

Dr. Kohel feels confident that a change in staffing will be minimal as the new change occurs. Since the number of students will remain the same, the school will be funded at the same number of units, preserving the jobs of most teachers. According to Kohel, in preparation for the decrease in custodial staff needed with one less school, the Milford School District has made a point not to make any new hires and to not replace any retired staff to save as many jobs as possible.

“We feel comfortable that no one will lose their job,” commented Kohel. “Some may have to be moved into different positions but we are prepared to deal with this.”

The future of the Milford Middle School building is uncertain at this time. Superintendent Kohel stated that there has not been any discussion about demolition of the building . Dr. Kohel and President of the Milford School Board Patrick Emory are currently looking into partnerships with the State of Delaware, City of Milford and Milford Parks and Recreation in order to have the original building utilized.

“No one has approached us so far but we are very interested in keeping that area open to the community,” stated Kohel. “We want to keep the property open for the community to use the track and fields.”

According to Cheif Financial Officer Tammy Korosic demolition of the building is estimated at $1.7 million. The annual savings of closing MMS is estimated to be $232,814 in potential operational costs and $181,703 in potential energy saving costs, for a total of $414,517.