By Terry Rogers
On Wednesday, February 10, Milford School District held a Community Meeting to discuss the fate of the former Milford Middle School building and to address overcrowding in the district due to growing student enrollment. Dr. Phyllis Kohel, Superintendent of Milford School District, also announced new programs that would be offered at Milford schools starting with the 2016-17 school year.
“We have several new programs planned for the upcoming school year that span grades from Kindergarten through 12,” Dr. Kohel said. “The first is our Spanish Immersion Program. Our first cohort will begin with about 50 students making up a two-way immersion program with 25 English language learners and 25 English only students.” Dr. Kohel said that Two-Way Bilingual Immersion (TWBI) is an instructional program that develops bilingualism and biliteracy in two languages by integrating native English speakers and native speakers of another language, like Spanish. Students receive instruction in two languages, one language at a time, and this gives the student the opportunity to have language models in both languages in order to support learning.
In addition to the TWBI program, two new pathways, Allied Health and Computer Science, will be offered to students at Milford High School. Dr. Kohel said that the future Bayhealth campus prompted the district to build a base for potential careers in the medical field. The district is also working to bring back Gifted and Talented as well as to offer Honors programs at Milford Central Academy.
However, the main purpose of the community meeting was to gain public input into the fate of the Middle School building and suggestions on how to deal with growing enrollment. The public provided 11 ideas to the board regarding the old Middle School building which included partial demolition and repurpose of the building, replicate the old Middle School vs preserving it, use the building for a police headquarters, partner with Bayhealth to repurpose the building for medical purposes and rebuild a new school on the site. In addition, community members suggested using the building for a children’s museum, a public park or donate the building with terms. In regard to growing enrollment, the public suggested purchasing land to build a new school or sell the old Middle School property for non-private use.
Those present were given the opportunity to vote on the top three options suggested. Purchase and build a new school received the most votes while selling the property and partnering with Bayhealth were the next two options that received the most votes. Mayor Bryan Shupe suggested that the district work with the company Bayhealth has contracted to use for repurposing the Clarke Avenue health facility that will be vacant once the new health campus is completed. He felt that it might be beneficial to connect the repurposing of the current hospital site with the repurposing of the Middle School building.
“I believe that the people in attendance understood the need for an additional building,” Dr. Kohel said. “The majority of the crowd voted to purchase land and build, but we did not discuss what type of building it would be. We will continue to discuss the concerns and views of the community and gather their input into whether we should look at building an elementary, middle or high school.” Two previous referendums in the district to build new schools failed in recent years. The first, in March 2014, was to demolish the old Middle School and build a new Middle School on the current site as well as an increase in operating revenue. The second was in May 2015 for an increase in operations revenue as well as to build a new high school on land the district planned to purchase across from Redner’s Market on Route 113. A referendum to increase operations revenue only passed in October 2015.
Dr. Kohel said that there are many false rumors surrounding the fate of the old Middle School building. One that was mentioned was that the City of Milford wanted the building to use as a police headquarters as they have outgrown the current location. Dr. Kohel said that the city did look at the building in order to determine if it would be suitable for that use not long after the building was closed.
“Dr. Glen Stevenson and I met with former Chief of Police, Keith Hudson and former City Manager, Richard Carmean, to tour and talk about the possibilities of converting that building into a police station,” Dr. Kohel said. “However, I believe that the final decision was that it would be more expensive to renovate the old Middle School than it would be to build a new police station. Other rumors we have heard is that we were planning to sell the building so it could be converted to low-income housing, something that has never been mentioned or discussed. We also heard that we planned to turn the land into one-acre building lots, but this is also not true. We want to conserve the land as a recreational park for our students in the community.” Recently, City Council voted to subdivide the property, separating the building from the green space so that the district could sell the building without compromising the fields and park areas. When asked at that meeting whether the district had intentions of selling or subdividing the land, Dr. Kohel stated emphatically that they had no intentions of doing so.
Currently, under state regulations, the district is offering the old Middle School buildings to state and local governmental agencies. Those agencies have until February 26 to express interest. If they do not, the district has the option of selling the building on the open market. After an appraisal, the district will be permitted to sell the building to profit and non-profit organizations. Another community meeting is scheduled for April, but there is no confirmed date at the present time. Dr. Kohel said that community members are urged to attend the meetings in order to have their input heard by the Board of Education.