by Terry Rogers
On Tuesday, February 26, Milford Middle School Steering Committee held an update meeting at the Milford Central Academy to provide the public with information regarding enrollment, capacity, growth and the steps necessary for school construction. This meeting is aimed begin the process of returning the former Milford Middle School building for educational use.
“There is a lot of information that will be presented tonight,” Bill Strickland, Chairman, explained. “We have a report from the University of Delaware regarding enrollment, capacity and growth as well as information from the City of Milford. We have a presentation from Tetra Tech, the company that performed a site evaluation and structural evaluation of the current building. We will also take comments from the public about what is described here tonight.”
Dr. Glen Stevenson, Director of Buildings and Grounds, presented the current enrollment at the district. As of September 30, there were 4,425 students enrolled with only Evelyn I. Morris Early Childhood Center considered under capacity.
“The state considers a school at capacity when their enrollment reaches 85 percent,” Stevenson explained. “Right now, every one of our schools is above 85 percent capacity except Morris. In addition, since the September 30 count, our enrollment has grown to 4,260. I will also point out that Morris counts do not include some of our pre-kindergarten students which add about another 21 students, pushing Morris close to full capacity as well.”
Sara Croce, Chief Financial Officer at Milford School District, explained the University of Delaware report which indicated that student growth was expected to increase slightly over the next ten years.
“The study provides a few key points as a whole,” Croce said. “There is projected to be an increase of the maturing population in our area and an increase in migration of households with children. The study does not account for local economy growth in relation to the new hospital and creation of those jobs. It also does not take into account multi-family dwellings that have not been constructed in the past ten years. Because this study looks at trends over the past ten years and we have not had any of those facilities built in the past ten years, so when we capture the growth in that type of facility can bring.”
Rob Pierce, City Planner and Economic Development Director for the City of Milford presented projected population growth in the City and agreed with Stevenson and Croce that the estimates presented in earlier reports were conservative. In 1940, the United States Census reported that Milford had a population of 4,214 with 1,425 housing units. In 2010, when the last census was taken, Milford’s population had more than doubled to $9,559 with 4,126 housing units. By 2050, Pierce said that the City expected to grow to over 21,000 people.
“One area where we can see growth is in the issuance of building permits,” Pierce said. “In 2014, the City issued 33 building permits. In 2019, we issued 129 and we expect to surpass that in 2019. Assuming that each building permit is for a home that will house 2.5 people, that could mean 320 additional residents in Milford, some of which may be children who will need schools.
James Pennewell, an Education Associate at the Delaware Department of Education provided a brief overview of the steps the district would need to take to bring the former Middles School building on Lakeview Avenue back into compliance with state regulations, in order to use it for a school. DOE limits the amount per square foot a district can spend for schools based on grade level. Elementary schools are limited to $371 per square foot, Middle Schools $396.20 per square foot and high schools $422.80 per square foot. For 2019, should Milford remodel the old building or build new, the state would pay 74 percent of the construction costs while the district would be required to pay 26 percent.
“We also use what is known as the Facility Condition Index which is a comparison of whether it is feasible to renovate a school or if it would be more economical to build a new school,” Pennewell said. “For example, if it would cost $50 million to renovate to standards vs. $100 million to build new, the FCI would be 50 percent. Currently, 50 percent is the threshold we use. However, we have given districts exceptions to this threshold if they can demonstrate need.”
Stevenson explained that the former Middle School building is of significant historic value due to the Milford Eleven, the group of 11 African-American students who attempted to integrate Milford schools in 1954. Stevenson pointed out that Milford was one of the first districts in the country to try to implement the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Education.
“The State has placed an historic marker at the school,” Stevenson said. “Regardless of what we decide to do with that building, the state has said they will remove the marker and then replace it once we have completed whatever we choose to do. As for environmental concerns, any time you have a building of this age, you will have some asbestos abatement that must be performed, whether it is torn down or renovated.”
Tim Skibicki, Michael Berninger and Mark Naumann of Tetra Tech presented information regarding their evaluation of the building and whether it could be renovated for use as a school again. Skibicki explained that their evaluation determined that the older part of the building was very viable for renovation. However, the newer sections of the building, some of which housed the former Lakeview School and others that housed district offices, should be removed as they had no value historically and were not in as good shape as the older portion of the building.
“You could easily tear off the newer sections and build new wings from the older section,” Skibicki said. “The building has a lot going for it. It has great bones. The brick on the exterior of the building is in great shape for its age. Because there was already a school there, it meets City Code. It also has no issues as far as DelDOT, it has all its utilities, it really does have a lot going for it.” Skibicki pointed out that the HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems would all need to be replaced. In addition, there were some leaks in the roof that would need to be repaired as quickly as possible.
Lang Redden, a member of the committee, questioned Skibicki about handicap accessibility. Skibicki said that there were areas of the school right now that were not handicap accessible and, although the school falls under Title II regulations, it would be their recommendation to make the entire school accessible. Yvette Dennehy, a member of the school board, asked if the building, as it stood now, met the 50 percent threshold established by DOE for renovation.
“At this time, no, it does not,” Skibicki said. “However, most of the issues exist in the newer sections, not in the older, historic sections. I know that DOE has allowed districts exceptions to that rule for many reasons, especially if there is historic context or something.”
Strickland asked if Tetra Tech could provide an estimate for what it would cost to renovate the school as described in their presentation in order to provide that information to the public at the next meeting planned for March 12 at 6 PM at the Milford Central Academy.
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