Committee considers renovation recommendations for old Milford Middle School

Hundreds of children flocked to Lakeview Avenue in Milford for decades when the now former Milford Middle School was open to students.

Five years after the Milford School Board decided to close the school indefinitely due to maintenance and health concerns, the building remains vacant – a sight many agree is an eyesore and a detriment to the community they love.

The Milford Middle School Steering Committee hopes to see that change as they work toward a recommendation to present to current school board members.

“This committee began meeting back in the fall of 2018 with the purpose of establishing what the community wanted [to do] with the current Lakeview Avenue site,” Committee Chair Bill Strickland said during a meeting Tuesday night held at Milford Central Academy.

The public, he continued to explain, has expressed interest in the school remaining as such with the help of renovations and additions. More information will be needed before the committee can make a recommendation of any kind to Milford School District’s Board of Education.

Sara Croce, Chief Financial Officer for the district, gave a brief overview of previous presentations to the cafeteria filled with concerned citizens to supply some of that information to the group.

Capacity concerns made it to the top of the list.

“All schools show at over 85 percent of the program capacities except Morris, but they don’t count the pre-k population,” she said.

Milford School District’s enrollment is at 4,260 students, which is up from 4,227 students registered by Sept. 30 at the beginning of the year.

“We are over capacity by 465 students currently and that doesn’t include growth,” Committee Member Yvette Dennehy said later on in the meeting.

Ms. Croce also explained that both the city of Milford and the University of Delaware described the moderate growth to hit the district in coming years based on historical trends. City of Milford leaders also spoke with the group at a previous meeting about a possible “boom scenario” which could occur due to the growth around the city.

Continuing, she said more than 5,700 housing units were “on the books ready to be built inside city limits,” and reminded the group that students in Milford School District come from the surrounding communities, as well.

All of these factors and others could eventually play a role in helping the district apply for a certificate of necessity for school construction.

If approved, the state could allocate funding for the project at 74 percent of the cost – the school district would be responsible for the other 26 percent. No state funding is allocated for preschool or adult education programs at public K-12 schools.

Repairs and renovations

As presented by Tim Sibicki of Tetra Tech, a newly renovated school on the Lakeview property with additions and parking solutions could run an estimated $46M to $53M based on preliminary numbers.

Tetra Tech was previously asked by the committee to come up with estimated costs based on an elementary or middle school facility model which could accommodate 800-900 students and would keep the original 1929 building renovated and intact. The site is not large enough for a high school, Mr. Sibicki said.

The project could involve “selectively demolishing building areas that are not historically significant and replacing/reconfiguring them with new additions would be able to create a school facility preserving important features of Milford’s past while providing a 21st century learning environment,” the presentation from Tetra Tech read.

Renderings of a potential project at the site display a classroom wing, parent drop off and pickup lane,  gymnasium, cafeteria and a larger bus parking lot to name a few items.

Along with renovating the older portion of the facility, Tetra Tech suggested replacing existing windows with new thermal windows, interior finishes and exterior and interior doors. Replacing HVAC, electrical, lighting, plumbing and fire safety systems was also recommended as they are now out of date and not compliant with current building codes.

Sewer and gas piping, and water services would also need to be replaced, along with electric lines and a transformer. ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant ramps, stairlifts or platforms was listed as an architectural recommendation by the firm, along with roof repair for the 1929 structure. Asbestos abatement is also necessary.

Based on current school facility requirements from the state of Delaware, Mr. Sibicki said, “The cost for the renovation is less than the cost of the new [middle school], and it’s the opposite when you look at the elementary school [idea].”

Continuing, he said, “Delaware’s Department of Education generally recommends that if renovating an existing school costs more than 50 percent of the cost of constructing a new replacement school, then the district should construct a new school. . . Here you’re faced with a kind of a mix where you have a historically significant building. They have made exceptions to that rule recently with the Cape Henlopen district . . . where similar approaches have been taken.”

Next steps

Community members present in the audience spoke up about the overcrowding found throughout the district and expressed their gratitude to the Milford Middle School Steering Committee for their work and dedication on the task at hand.

“We have opportunities like this in our community, you’re giving us those opportunities, to ask every question, every comment. . . this is about the kids. Gosh, I hope we never forget that part,” retired MSD science teacher Sandy Naumann said.

“I’m a retired educator and I live and work in the district,” Sharon Walls-Hall commented. “I’ve been through five buildings in my career. Invariably, I happen to know that we’re way over capacity. And there’s an HVAC problem there [in the high school]. I just want to be sure that you’re looking at the whole picture.”

With comments and presentations in mind, Mr. Strickland advised the group of their next meeting to be held Tuesday, April 2 in the cafeteria of the Milford Central Academy. He also asked for more direction from the school district so the committee could continue to hone in on its recommendation.

“I would respectfully ask the district and administration to meet between now and then to do an assessment about the appropriate age levels and how to reprogram overcrowding in the high school. How do we best use the resource of accommodating the renovated school for the district? That’s item one,” he said. “Item two would be: I would ask Ms. Croce to provide us with the tax impact in the various [scenarios] presented.”

Following that information, he said the next step would be to make a recommendation to the Milford School District to move forward with a renovated school and which grade levels it would accommodate and why.

“From my perspective, if I know I’m looking at an increase [price increase with inflation], candidly, I would say there’s a sense of urgency for this committee. I don’t have a perfect crystal ball at this juncture, but I think those are the next steps for the April meeting.”

More information and all presented documents can be found at milfordschooldistrict.org in the community tab under Our District.

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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