Big plans: Dover middle schools seek city approval, hope to break ground this fall

DOVER — If everything continues to move along smoothly for the Capital School District and the city of Dover Planning Department for a pair of two new middle schools, construction could be ready to begin on the site of the old Dover High School off Pat Lynn Drive this fall.

Capital School District Superintendent Dan Shelton and members of the Becker Morgan Group, which is in charge of designing the large project, met virtually with the city’s Development Advisory Committee on Wednesday morning to comb through the fine details of the planned $111 million middle school project, which is planned to be built in four phases.

Mr. Shelton said the groundwork that has already been laid over the past several years with members of the community, the Becker Morgan Group, and the city, has helped make the project — which will house sixth- through eight-grade students — move rather seamlessly thus far.

“We spent so much time on the onset of this project talking to our citizens, families and staff about what they wanted and really had some solid ideas before we went to referendum,” Mr. Shelton said. “We also have been meeting for years now with the city and all of the state agencies to make sure we had all of our ducks in a row.

“I think that investment in time has really paid off with a project that the citizens are happy and excited about and one that our city and state agencies are able to fully support as we have taking into account all of their feedback along the way. It has been great working with everyone.”

The virtual review of the Capital School District’s site development master plan application on Wednesday was to permit redevelopment of the school property in a series of phases. No public comments were allowed.

However, the public will be allowed to comment on the project at its next anticipated stop, the city’s Planning Commission meeting on May 18 at 7 p.m., which will also be held as a virtual meeting using WebEx.

Jon Falkowski, of the Becker Morgan Group, said he was grateful that virtual meeting technology has allowed the project to move along during the COVID-19 crisis.

“I just want to thank everyone for getting together on a virtual format,” Mr. Falkowski said. “It’s important that this project moves forward for the district, state and the city, so I appreciate moving to a virtual format and keeping this project moving.”

The first phase involves construction of a new 238,500-square-foot middle schools building with 294 parking spots and other site improvements. The second phase addresses sports fields and two associated 2,300-square-foot buildings, while the third phase involves a planned 19,500-square-foot future building addition and the final phase addresses the addition of two 8,800-square-foot future buildings.

The new middle school proposal involves a series of land tracts totaling almost 45 acres — on the site of the old Dover High School — and are zoned IO (Institutional and Office Zone).

While Mr. Shelton was excited that the middle school project continues to be moving along through the planning process, he said the virtual meetings brought about by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, can a little bit limiting.

“It is very exciting,” said Mr. Shelton. “It has been a little difficult to hold these meetings virtually instead of in person and we would like to be able to have models and drawings available for display and people be able to gather around them and comment. It is important that everyone have input on the project.

“With that said, it is so exciting we will finally be able to do our grade-level reconfiguration and be able to get our middle school students into the appropriate environment for their learning. We hope that we are able to proceed from here without too many hold ups.”

Demolition of the former Dover High School began in 2015, the year after the new high school on Dover High Drive opened. The site has sat dormant ever since.

The middle schools are being constructed to meet enrollment growth for the district.

The overall blueprint presented by the Becker Morgan Group for the two middle schools shows a U-shaped building, with each side representing a different middle school. The schools would be connected through shared spaces, with an auditorium, cafeteria, gymnasium and media center. Each two-level school is expected to house 800 students.

The blueprint also showed that the main parking lot will be on the west side of the building, with a bus drop-off area for students that will be on the east side of the building that will also be used for event parking, and another smaller drop-off location at main entrance to the building.

Plans are for the old Dover High turf football field to remain on the site, as well as the baseball field. There are also plans for new practice fields for football and soccer/field hockey, and a new softball field that will be located to the northeast side of the football stadium.

Currently, they remain plans on blueprints going through the approval process, but if Mr. Shelton, the Capital School District and the Becker Morgan Group have their way, there will be shovels turning over dirt off Pat Lynn Drive this fall.

“I just want to thank everyone for the work that they’ve done, both ahead of this submission to make sure we had everything that we needed as well as throughout the process, we really appreciate working alongside the city of Dover to improve our city,” Mr. Shelton said. “We can’t wait to be able to get our kids housed in a true middle school with true middle school programs. It’s going to be fantastic.”