Milford School District moved one step closer in finalizing plans for the new Milford Middle School. The Lakeview Avenue property is currently under construction with demolition of the newer wings while the original 1929 structure will be preserved. Milford City Council approved a site plan for the project at a recent meeting, paving the way for new construction over the next two years.
“The preliminary site plan has been reviewed by staff and meets the minimum requirements of the zoning ordinance,” Rob Pierce, City Planner said. “One thing to note in the packet is a letter from the Tree Preservation Advisory Council, where they discussed the Milford Middle School project at their February 15, 2023, quarterly meeting. They specifically discussed the condition and status of the cherry trees located along Lakeview Avenue. The advisory council discussed and voted that if the trees were to be deemed healthy enough, they should be saved after inspection by the city arborist and as part of the street modeling effort of the school and incorporate into the overall landscaping plan.”
Pierce continued, explaining that the Planning Commission approved the request with a vote of six to one to with the condition that if the cherry trees are removed, they are replanted in front of the school.
Tim Metzner, registered landscape architect and project manager at Davis, Bowen & Friedel, stated that a new sidewalk was proposed along School Place and Kent Place. Buses will continue to park in the same location as the old school. The main entrance to the school will be moved to what was the rear of the building in the past with an entrance off of Kent Place. A gravel parking lot for the athletic fields and track will remain with an entrance farther away from Seabury Avenue due to safety reasons.
“So, we understand that the city’s Tree Preservation Advisory Council had made a recommendation to keep the existing cherry trees in front of the historic building. Although we definitely appreciate and respect their recommendation, I don’t know that they had all the information or all the facts for the circumstances as to why we were proposing to remove the trees,” Metzner said. “It was stated during the hearing these cherries trees have historic value and removing them was just for aesthetic purposes. And I do have Google Earth aerial photos from 1992 that show the trees were not planted at that time. And then also an aerial from 2003 that shows them there. There were modifications to the school bus loop at that time between 1992 and 2003. And at that time, all the plantings were done in that in that timeframe there. So as the trees are today, they were planted between 1992 and 2003. We don’t have the exact timing on that. So as far as the historic value, they’re between 20 and 30 years old and they’re also non-native species with a nuisance root system.”
Metzner provided photos showing the roots of the cherry trees coming to the surface and damaging sidewalks on the school property. He also pointed out that one of the goals of the Tree Preservation Advisory Council was to establish and maintain diversity toward native trees and he felt these trees were not in line with that goal as they were not native to the area. Therefore, removal of the trees was for more than simply aesthetic reasons. Metzner stated that the project included a ten-foot wide shared use path that would be difficult to create with the trees planted in the same location. In addition, the root system of the trees could infiltrate the city’s drainage systems on the property.
“We have big concerns with that area in front because of the new shared use path, the existing storm drain line and then the constant problems with the root system damaging the sidewalks. We can plant in other areas along the front but because that building is pushed so far forward and there’s just not a lot of room in there, those trees unfortunately are a concern to replant them in the exact same location,” Metzner said. “There are also many other native flowering trees that we can propose along the front over by the bus loop, in that small area on the southwest front of the other in front. So, there are other locations that we can plant that also we believe will be more in line with the tree preservation goals for diverse native trees throughout the site. As they say in the landscape industry, right tree right place and in my professional opinion, as a registered landscape architect, I don’t believe the cherry trees are the right tree for this location and would therefore request the condition be modified or removed accordingly.”
Councilman Andy Fulton asked what type of cherry trees they were as black cherry trees were native to Delaware. Metzner stated they had not been able to determine the exact species, but believed they were Kusa cherry trees which were not native to the area. Metzner also mentioned that the school plans were designed for future expansion and Councilman Dan Marabello asked if he could explain what that expansion may be. Metzner stated that the need for expansion was not known at this point, but that the new design would allow the district to add additional learning space to the school in the future. Councilman Brian Baer asked why one member of the Planning Commission voted against the site plan.
“The chairman voted against the motion. If you listen to the recording, it appeared that he was against requiring the applicant to do anything with the trees, whether remove them or replace them,” Pierce said. “He didn’t want to go against the opinion of the arborist or the landscaper. So, it seemed like he wasn’t against the site plan, he just was against the condition of requiring the trees to be replanted somewhere.”
Mayor Archie Campbell asked if there would be recognition of the Milford 11, the first African American students who attempted to integrate Milford School District in 1954. Metzner stated that there was a small open space on the property that the district was considering making a park with plaques to memorialize the Milford 11 as well as displays inside the school to recognize their historic contributions.
“Yes. Good evening. My name is Tim Skubicky. I’ve been working with Tim Metzner on this project and am the project architect. I work for BSA+A and represent the school district. I just wanted to say a couple things in support of the project.
“This project is, in addition to the historical importance of it, it is extremely important to the school district from a capacity standpoint in that I am sure most of you are already aware it is,” Tim Skibicki of BSA+A, the engineering firm that helped design the new school, said. “It should be stated that that this project is a middle school, but it’s actually fifth and sixth graders and it will relieve overcrowding at the elementary school level and at the middle school level, which will be extremely important to the school district.”
Skibicki explained that the entire design was created to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible.
“Tim did mention that the new entrance is at the former rear of the building. And I did want to point out that this whole perimeter of the school has been designed so every elevation, every aspect of the school has been given the attention from an aesthetic standpoint, and the district did think it was very important to keep the amenities that were already in place as was promised to the to the district, including the school’s track and the various fields and the access to that space,” Skibicki said. “Just to speak to the question about the classroom expansion. There were a couple of plans that were floated in terms of the capacity, and they would be in the range of eight to 12 classrooms. There’s limited amount of space for classrooms, but you could add classrooms to each of those wings. There’s the one that’s closer to Lakeview, and there’s one that’s closer to the parking lot on the field side. So, there will be two story either two classrooms added on two floors each, which would give you eight or possibly I think 16 would be a stretch, but the district did want to allow for the possibility of future expansion.”
Skibicki also stated that there were plans to not only recognize the Milford 11, but also the Milford 7, the African American students who successfully integrated Milford High School in 1964.
“And finally, I do want to reiterate the historic importance. The district is keenly aware of that and importance of the Milford 11 as well as the Milford 7, which was a successful integration later on, and there will be recognition to that fact within the school itself,” Skibicki said. “The Media Center or the library, we’re working on a design that speaks to the Milford 11. The pillars, there will be 11 columns in the library, which will pay homage to the Milford 11 and history of that. There is also the historic plaque. And there is a plan for an interior and exterior display to recognize those prominently as well.”
Council approved the site plan with a vote of 6 to 0 as Councilwoman Nirmala Samaroo was not in attendance.
“I definitely support the motion and it meets the city requirements, as well as the PLUS approvals are in order. I just think it’s a wonderful thing that the school is being preserved,” Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said. “I’d like to thank the district and board members for recognizing the history the school holds. Years ago, we had an opportunity to do this for Benjamin Banneker, but we missed that mark. Thankful for the new school but would have loved to hold on to some of the history of the old school and what it meant to the African American community. But my vote is yes.”
Councilman Jason James stated that he was well aware of the need for additional student capacity and realized that even when the school was completed, more capacity was likely going to be needed, so he was glad there were plans for future growth. Councilman Brian Baer felt it was “high time the school site be cleaned up” and that the district was already making good progress.
“I vote yes. Obviously, everybody wants that to be useful again, the public has spoken and the sooner they get going to build it, the better,” Councilman Todd Culotta said. “You can already see the demo that’s going on. As far as the recommendation with the trees, there’s information provided here tonight, based on the rights-of-way, the bypass and some of the logistical issues with trying to keep those, so I understand the need to let them figure out what goes on with the trees.”
Councilman Fulton also approved the measure.
“This issue is near and dear to my heart. I vote yes,” Councilman Fulton, who represents the ward where the school property sits, said. “The trees mentioned or are described as non-indigenous to that I believe. And with the root system that those trees do display, they are a hazard to the storm water system as well as the future of that school site as the roots will continue tearing up the concrete and everything else. And, and I want to say something a little more than Councilman Wilson, I think this is a major steppingstone not only for the African American community but for the entire Milford community when that integration occurred. And for that I say our hearty yes.”
Councilman Mike Boyle, who served on the board that helped the district determine the fate of the building, stated it was time to bring the project to fruition.
“It’s been 11 years since the children have really been in an overcrowded condition. It’s probably close to three more years before they can relieve that situation,” Councilman Boyle said. “The taxpayers are paying a lot of money for a strong architectural team. And let’s let them make the decision on making that site look the best that it possibly can without some problematic issues with trees.”
Councilman Dan Marabello agreed with his fellow council members.
“I had the opportunity to see the presentation at one of the schools a few months back. I was very impressed with the fact that there was concern about more security for our students the way it’s designed,” Councilman Marabello said. “I’m also happy that there is room for some expansion for us because the city is growing and I’m sure we’re going to have a need for it.”
Construction on the new school is expected to be completed and ready for students by the fall of 2025.
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