by Terry Rogers
On Monday, August 27, Milford School District held the first in a series of meetings to get community input regarding the fate of the old Milford Middle School building on Lakeview Avenue. The building was closed to student use in 2013 and has remained vacant for the past five years.
“This is a very thoughtful exercise aimed at trying to figure out the best use for the Middle School site,” Bill Strickland, chairman of the committee, said. “Tonight represents the start of Phase I, the evaluation of what we want for the property. We are seeking your input as well as input from this committee to garner a consensus on what we want. The second phase is much more technical in its orientation. Now that we have determined what you want, lets talk about the practicalities of what you want. Can it be done? What are some of the limitations of what you want? But, this phase is to get information from the public to see what you want to see happen with a building that has been an asset to the community.”
Strickland explained that the first phase of the committee would evaluate the Middle School building and grounds while also determining what could be kept that was of value. The purpose is to preserve the educational and community value of the property while communicating that value to the community. The goal was to determine the future use of the former Middle School property and develop a plan that allows the property to continue being an asset to the community. The committee meetings will be designed to get input and feedback from the community. In addition, the committee was designed to maintain trust and positive relationships with the community.
Dr. Glen Stevenson, Buildings and Grounds Supervisor, and Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent, presented a short history on the Middle School building. The main part of the building was built in 1929 on land that was deeded to the district for $1 by the Grier family. What became known as the Lakeview wing was built in the 1940s while the section that now houses the maintenance shop was built in the 1960s. The school sits on just under 24 acres of land although the land was subdivided in 2013. The front part where the building sits is approximately eight acres and the field section is just over 15 acres. After the history presentation, the committee allowed public input regarding the property. Strickland reiterated that the “slate was clean” and that there were no “bad ideas, only ideas.”
“The high school itself has an overcrowding problem,” Andy Fulton, who is a member of the City Planning Commission, said. “In order to make it less crowded, seniors are being sent home early, taking away from the senior experience. I suggest we keep the historical portion and have the remainder torn down and new buildings constructed on the footprint. It is my understanding that this was one of the largest middle schools in Delaware. We could look at public-private partnerships, possibly discuss partnering with higher education with one wing housing college-level courses at night to offset costs.”
Jim Purcell suggested that the district work with Nationwide Health who is purchasing the former Bayhealth campus for ideas to repurpose the school as well as with Serona Dentsply who is also in the same neighborhood. He suggested creating a STEM school that would focus on science, technology and the arts or that the district consider a magnet school for the building. He also suggested the school could be used for a charter school which would allow the district to bring in private funds. David Murphy, a former building inspector, suggested that even though the interior of the school may be in poor condition, the “skeleton” may still be in good shape.
“If the building has outlived its usefulness and cannot be repaired, we need to let it go,” Murphy said. “However, there have been times I was going to condemn a building and it turned out that it had to be renovated. Tearing down a building is expensive. Renovating is expensive. But, if you have a good skeleton, use it. The interior of the building might be in bad shape, but the structure may not be. You need to get an engineering firm in there on your behalf and on our behalf to officially determine if it is repairable. Where the school is located is a great spot and where it sits today will service everybody. If it can be used as a Middle School today, let’s do it.”
Patti Persia, who lives on School Place, pointed out that the school’s history was much more in-depth than presented as it was the first school to integrate north and south Milford. The same school buildings were constructed in Lewes and Georgetown, both of which are still in operation. She suggested using the building for office space or a children’s museum that would give children activities on rainy days. Joanne Milton suggested converting the building into small apartments for senior living and partnering with a Montessori-style school where seniors and children could be connected. There were also suggestions to convert the entire area to open space or to turn the building over to the City for uses like the Farmer’s Market. There were members of the audience who expressed that it was difficult to come up with ideas when they were not sure what limitations could be placed on them by the state.
“Some people use the word limitations,” Bryan Shupe, a member of the committee said. “We are really open to anything. When Bayhealth and DE Turf were created, they didn’t ask about limitations. First, they went to the community and said, ‘what do we need’ and then looked at the numbers to decide what can help set the community up for the next 50 to 100 years. We need to look at this project the same way.”
Sara Croce, Chief Executive Officer for Milford School District, explained that the district had reached out to all state agencies to see if they wanted the building and received in writing that all agencies declined to take it. Because they have that information in writing, the district is able to sell the building.
“I would like to go back to the state to see if they still don’t want the building,” Cindy Sammons said. “The state is running out of room and they are looking to expand. However, everything I hear about the school, I would love to see it remain a school. My idea would be to take the main part of the school and have it be a specialized school for children with special needs.”
Several members of the public expressed concern that there seemed to be a high number of committee members who were district employees, former district employees or board members. Dr. Jeanel Starling who is a member of the committee suggested that there needed to be more community members on the committee and not just educators and businesspeople. Fred Duffy, also a member of the committee, pointed out that when a member of the community asked a question, the committee had to provide them with an answer, if not at the current meeting, at the next one. He stated that when people ask questions that they do not get answered, they feel disenfranchised.
The next meeting of the committee will be Tuesday, September 25 at 6 PM at the Milford Central Academy cafeteria. Dickerson said that the district would work harder to get the word out about the meetings and encouraged those in attendance to spread the word as well.