Capital School District seeks funding for two new middle schools

DOVER — If voters approve a spring referendum, Capital School District will construct two middle schools next to each other in the former Dover High campus area at Pat Lynn Drive off Walker Road.

Administration believes that a single building for 1,600 sixth- through eighth-graders is too much in one place, hence the plan for two facilities. Also, the district can economize the use of athletic fields, a kitchen and auditorium for two schools to share, among other benefits.

With a successful referendum, planning for programming would begin immediately with a target opening date in 2023. A Request for Proposal would be issued for construction.

The capital budget for the additions is projected to require $66,514,000 in state money, $61,803,000 local.

Since North Dover Elementary School was completed in 1997, Capital officials say there have been no other significant additions to available space. After that, enrollment has grown by over 500 students, including 187 special education students requiring intensive attention.

Each elementary school is considered over capacity and two are operating with trailers.

Dan Shelton

In an Aug. 22 introductory letter to the Delaware Board of Education, Capital Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton laid out the district’s case for construction funding as part of a 232-page Certificate of Necessity (CN) request and master plan overview. The documents and information took three years to compile, according to the district.

“The process was extensive and included multiple phases of development, community outreach and input, planning and research,” Dr. Shelton wrote.

The district described itself as being in the “heart of Delaware” and holding a unique place in Delaware’s educational system based on its rural and city environments. The district operates 12 schools. A 2016 study conducted by ABHA Architects concluded that five buildings were “in need of significant investment in order to address issues of health and safety, systems and structure, safety and security and programmatic needs.”

The East Dover Elementary School building was deemed by ABHA to be failing with immediate concerns.

“Demolishing the building and re-purposing the campus is the best long-range solution,” the executive summary reported to the DOE.

Envisioning the schools

According to the district, “One middle school would focus on the arts, the other middle school would focus on skilled and technical trades, with both having a strong (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum.”

Fifth-grade students will choose an academic path prior to middle school, and enrollment will initially be based on choice. A lottery will be held if necessary.

“The plan right now is a very rough draft. There will be lots of work to be done to develop the programming at each of the schools and we will be holding public workshops/forums as we go along,” Dr. Shelton said.

Geography won’t factor into school destination and programs may be adjusted to fit needs, the district said.

“We have said that by having the dual middle school, when the bus arrives from a neighborhood, some kids will go left, some will go right and both groups will have a high-quality experience with programming to meeting to meet their goals and needs,” Dr. Shelton said.

Officials are focused on providing equal opportunity and resources at both schools, keyed by their close proximity. They will likely have separate names as decided by a committee while following school board policy.

“Putting middle schools on opposite ends of town makes access and equity an issue and there always will seem to be a have versus a have not,” Dr. Shelton said.

Capital recently received a CN, the Delaware Department of Education’s affirmation that funding is needed from the state.

Last week, Capital administrators met with 15 members of the public and Capital School Board members to share preliminary information that included:

• CN was approved to build two new middle schools.

• CNs for renovations to William Henry Middle School (described by the district as “grossly over capacity”), two new early childhood centers and Central Elementary School were not approved.

• District will modify the Facility Master Plan to realize changes necessary based on partial approval of CN to implement grade level reconfiguration (PK-K, 1-5, 6-8 & 9-12).

• End of Facility Master Plan will be unchanged.

• Will require a capital referendum.

• Will most likely seek an operating referendum in conjunction with the capital referendum.

• It has been 13 years since Capital has gone to an operating referendum.

• Capital has the lowest operating tax rate in the state (with the exception of portions of districts that cross county lines which blurs tax rates).

More information is available at www.capital.k12.de.us/common/pages/.

Creating needed space

The proposal will create the space needed to move the Kent County Secondary ILC from leased space into William Henry Middle School. Currently, the school serving over 100 students is costing $368,000 annually for leased space in an industrial park.

“These students should be housed in a school not leased space,” Dr. Shelton said.

Also, the Kent County Community School for 18- to 21-year-olds with significant cognitive disabilities exceeded capacity and is conducted at leased space in the Wesley Church annex.

Additionally, the preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds restored in 2015 has increased by 60 with a three-year trend of 50 percent additional students, a trend that is expected to continue.

According to Dr. Shelton, other benefits of the proposed construction include:

• Eases the burden of middle school capacity issues.

• Provides modern learning environments for all students in middle grades.

• Provides programs not currently available to Capital students.

• Completely equitable as all students will have equal opportunity to attend program of their choice.

• Allows district to implement grade-level reconfiguration so that the district fits the models in the nation of best practice.

Capital has a three-phase Facility Master Plan that will later seek funding to renovate part of Booker T. Washington Elementary School, expand North Dover Elementary Scjpp; to integrate students from Towne Point Elementary School, and expand Hartly Elementary School to take advantage of the best growth potential, and increase space for early childhood programs.

The final phase will involve creating more space at the new Dover High, which the district said reached its capacity prior to opening.

Capacity calculations

Following are the state calculated Capital School District student capacity for its buildings, and enrollments as of Sept. 30, 2017. The district plans to send an addendum to reflect more students enrolled since then, primarily from fourth- to eighth-graders at William Henry and Central middle schools.

Elementary schools
Booker T. Washington 329 (capacity), 299 (enrolled)
East Dover 331, 332
Fairview 292, 282
Hartly 261, 312
North Dover 241, 382
South Dover 524, 592
Towne Point 245, 270

Middle schools
William Henry 707, 925
Central 1,119, 935

High school
Dover 1,690, 1,789

 

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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