Dover school, church condemned after Isaias

A drone camera captures the extensive damage to William Henry Middle School in Dover following Tuesday’s storm. (Submitted photo)/City of Dover)

DOVER — Tropical Storm Isaias touched many areas throughout the city of Dover with its destructive force Tuesday morning.

Perhaps hardest hit were the historic William Henry Middle School on Carver Road and Union Missionary Baptist Church on Lincoln Street. Both buildings have been condemned by the city of Dover fire marshal.

There appeared to be a wide swath of damage that stretched all the way from Moore’s Lake in southeast Dover, where numerous houses appeared to be destroyed by tornadoes and high winds, to the Hamlet in west Dover, which had lots of damage due to falling trees and limbs.

Workers were out in full force today trying to assess the damage and return some sense of normalcy to the city. Traffic lights appeared to be working, utility poles on Division Street were straightened, and power was being restored to residents.

William Henry Middle School was originally the William Henry Comprehensive High School, the only high school for African Americans in Dover. It opened in September 1952 and was founded during segregation. The school closed after the 1965-66 school year, after the Supreme Court ruling to integrate schools.

The school’s namesake is William W.M. Henry, the first black physician in Dover.

In September 1967, the high school became William Henry Middle School and opened to fifth and sixth grade students as one of two middle schools in the Capital School District.

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen toured Dover a couple of times in the aftermath of the tropical storm Tuesday and was saddened by what he saw in the city.

“I was heartbroken to see all the damage throughout the city,” Mayor Christiansen said. “I am saddened to see the damage at William Henry Middle School, which was named after an influential Doverian.

“The building has been a longtime center of not only education, but as a gathering place for graduations, plays, band concerts, school fairs, elections and all types of community activity. My hope is the structure can be repaired.”

Sylvia Henderson, interim superintendent for the Capital School District, said in a letter on the school’s website that every effort will be made to repair and reopen William Henry.

“First and foremost, we hope everyone is safe from Tropical Storm Isaias that moved through our Dover area and vicinity earlier (Tuesday),” Ms. Henderson wrote. “We are thinking of you and hope you are well.

“We wanted to inform you William Henry Middle School sustained some damage from the storm and has been deemed unsafe by the city of Dover fire marshal. This means that the building will be closed until further notice. We remain committed to preserving our historic building and will keep you updated throughout the summer.”

The Capital School District did get a larger time window for making repairs to William Henry since Gov. John Carney announced Tuesday that Delaware schools can open next month with a hybrid learning model, which means a mix of in-person and remote instruction. The district continues to work closely with the Division of Public Health to ensure that it is following all appropriate safety precautions and guidelines.

“Our reopening committees continue to meet. We will be presenting a revised calendar to the board of education for approval (today) and more detailed plans will be forthcoming,” Ms. Henderson added.

The Capital School District said it had big plans for William Henry Middle School back in February.

School board member Sean Christiansen said the district has been working on securing state funding, without going out to referendum, “to renovate and restore (William Henry) as it was in the 1960s, including upgrades to the HVAC and electrical system and even the planetarium.”

The building would be split, for use by the Kent County Secondary Intensive Learning Center and Kent County Community School. KCSILC currently rents warehouse space. KCCS already has a connection to William Henry, Mr. Christiansen said, and is the “fastest growing student population.”

After touring William Henry on Tuesday evening, Gov. Carney was shocked at the impact the tropical storm had left on Dover, particularly at the school.

“I just think it’s almost a total loss. It’s a significant loss to the community,” said Gov. Carney, who toured damaged sections of Dover and viewed aerial drone footage of the school.

Meanwhile, Union Missionary Baptist Church had large segments of its roof come off during the storm, causing major damage.

“Union Baptist Missionary Church is one of the oldest congregations in the city,” said Mayor Christiansen. “It holds special meaning to me as it was the longtime church of the Rev. J.H. Williams, who was a longtime chaplain of the Dover City Council and was appointed by the late Mayor Crawford J. Carroll.

“Also, my uncle, the late Rev. Roland Coker, preached there. He was appointed as chaplain by me when I was council president. Again, it is my hope that the church will be rebuilt and its vital work continues in our city.”

Kent County officials said today that, due to the storm, a force main developed a leak in the median along U.S. 13 near the Twin Willows development. Residents in the area who are connected to the Kent County sewer system are asked to take water conservation measures, such as avoiding laundry and using the dishwasher through Thursday.

This applies to Kent County sewer customers between Garrison’s Lake and the New Castle County line and does not apply to customers on septic systems in the area or sewer customers outside of the area. Those experiencing water issues should contact the Kent County Department of Public Works at 744-2430.

The Dover Fire Department responded to more than 50 calls in six hours Tuesday, the department wrote on its Facebook page.

Dover city officials also updated residents on its Facebook page today, posting: “Our staff is working to get Dover cleaned up and resuming normal activities. Please be patient with our crews and staff. Allowing crew members to work without interruption on the job site is greatly appreciated and reduces the time needed to complete tasks.

“We are actively working with the Delaware Emergency Management (Agency) and the National Weather Service to determine exactly what many of our residents experienced. Again, please be patient while assessments are completed.”