Cape Henlopen school board focused on the bigger picture for the district's future elementary schools after weeks of discussing possibly reconfiguring the Milton schools.
"We need to discuss the fifth school that could draw from and thin out our other schools," said board member Jen Burton during the May 23 board meeting.
She said she continued to support the idea of a mega school that could handle anticipated district growth through 2030. Burton, board Vice President Spencer Brittingham and board member Sandi Minard have said at earlier meetings they like the Kathleen H. Wilbur Elementary School in Bear – a K-5 school that is divided into two schools with younger grades in one section and older grades in another. All grades share common space such as a large auditorium; a single kitchen prepares food for two separate cafeterias.
"I think that school is fiscally responsible," Burton said.
Board President Andy Lewis said heard no negative comments about a new school after a series of community meetings held recently.
Although an exact location for the new school has not been determined, Lewis said, it would lie somewhere within an area bordered by Routes 9 and 24 lying east of Route 1 and west of Coolspring Road.
"We need to come up with a plan we can finalize," Lewis said.
While comments so far received by the board appear to favor a new school, the idea of tearing down other district elementary schools and building new doesn't sit well with Burton.
"I have a huge problem tearing down buildings," she said. "There's so much money that's been spent on these elementaries."
The district's facilities task force recommended tearing down Shields, Rehoboth and H.O. Brittingham elementaries and building new schools on those properties. Director of Adminstrative Services Brian Bassett said there is always something that needs to be fixed with old buildings, and the district is sure to be faced with future repair expenses, although he said he did not know exactly how much would be needed to keep the buildings operational.
"I can't tell you in a few years we're not going to have serious problems with our buildings," he said.
Minard said she wasn't sure brand new buildings are the answer particularly after a recent trip down south where she saw plenty of old but functional school buildings in Alabama, Mississippi and other states.
"The kids were learning, and they were happy," she said.
After the first task force proposal, which called for four new elementary schools each housing 840 students, Bassett estimated it would cost about $120 million for the new buildings, renovations at Milton Elementary and classroom additions at the middle schools, but that cost would be less if the final plan are scaled down, he said.
Superintendent Robert Fulton said a referendum on new buildings could be divided into parts so voters could approve of different segments of the plan separately.
But for now, Fulton said, the board should put together a complete building package for state approval.
"If the state approves it, then we have the option to pull back," he said.
The district is awaiting the results of a $12,500 University of Delaware study to determine the location of future population growth in the district.