by Terry Rogers
On Tuesday, March 12, the Milford Middle School Committee held a public meeting to continue discussions on the future of the former Milford Middle School building on Lakeview Avenue. At the meeting, TetraTech presented architectural renderings of what the building could look like and cost estimates for the renovations.
“We focused on an elementary or middle school as this site is not large enough to meet state requirements for a high school,” Tim Sibicki of TetraTech explained. “As we explained at the last meeting, the newer wings on the school are not in great shape and they do not meet today’s needs for a school. However, the 1929 section of the building is still in pretty good shape. Our recommendation was to remove the newer wings and build a more modern wing for additional classroom space.” In the artist renderings, the new wing would be placed behind the school and could be either two or three stories. The bus platforms as well as the parent pickup and drop-off locations would be reconfigured as well.
Sibicki explained that the state does require that if renovation would cost more than 50 percent of a new school, they would prefer that a new school be built. However, the state has made recent exceptions to that regulation in the Cape Henlopen School District in schools that have historic value. Since the Milford Middle School building does have historic value, Sibicki believes the state would waive the 50 percent requirement.
“Currently, the state would pay 74 percent of the renovation costs with Milford required to pay 24 percent,” Sibicki said. “If Milford were to build an 800-student elementary school, the cost to renovate would be $46,505,995. The state share of that cost would be approximately $34,414,436 while Milford would need to pay $12,091,559. A 900-student middle school would cost approximately $48,839,001 with the state covering $37,495,061 of that cost and the district’s portion being $13,173,940.”
Sibicki explained that for each year the district waited to renovate the school, the higher the cost would be. According to calculations provided by Sibicki, waiting just one year to build the elementary school could raise the cost more than $2 million and waiting two years could raise the cost almost $5 million. Waiting one year to build a middle school would increase the cost over $2.4 million and waiting three years could increase the cost more than $5 million.
The state requires that the district go out for referendum for any large capital improvements. According to Sara Croce, Chief Financial Officer, Delaware code does allow for gifts and other moneys to be used n lieu of bonds, including a capital fund raising campaign.
“The state code says that instead of issuing bonds, any school district may pay its local share by using gifts or any other moneys on hand which are not required by law to be used for some other purpose,” Croce explained.
Community member Sara Pletcher pointed out that the district needs a high school. She suggested that if the committee chose to put a middle or elementary school on the property, she would like for them to see how to best utilize the Milford Central Academy as part of the high school.
Bill Strickland, Chairman of the committee, asked district staff to assess what would be the best grade levels for a building on the Lakeview property as well as an estimate of what the tax burden would look like for residents.
“This committee and this district have acted with the utmost transparency,” Strickland said. “We intend to continue that practice. We aren’t trying to hide anything and we want the public to have as much information as they need to make an informed decision. It is important to point out that renovating the school will not get less expensive with time. I want to make it very clear that nothing happens with a referendum until this committee makes a recommendation to the school board and we are not there yet.”
The next committee meeting will be held April 2 at 6 PM at the Milford Central Academy.
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