After about 45 minutes of questions for Cape Henlopen School District officials, members of Milton Planning and Zoning Commission looked at each other and asked:
“Do you want to let them build a school?”
The answer was yes.
By a 6-1 vote, the commission granted preliminary site-plan approval to renovate the existing Milton Elementary School. Teachers will begin moving offices to temporary quarters at the old H.O. Brittingham Elementary School later this month, and the project will go out to bid in July. District officials will come back before the commission in August for final approval before construction begins in October. During construction, students will go to the old H.O. Brittingham school until the project is complete in 2021.
The commission tabled the school application at their May 21 meeting in order to review new plans that were received shortly before the meeting, and to resolve a question surrounding a 12-foot strip of land owned by the town where strormwater pipes are to be installed.
The issue of the land was resolved by town council June 3, which granted a waiver to allow the stormwater pipes.
On June 4, the commission resumed discussion of the preliminary site-plan, and the biggest remaining issue was whether a stormwater management pond close to the playground should be fenced in.
Zac Crouch, architect for the district, said Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has indicated a fence is not required and is instead discouraged. He said the concern is that if a child were to get beyond the fencing, and if the fence were locked, it would prohibit or slow an adult trying to save that child.
Crouch said most of the district’s other schools, including Mariner Middle School, Rehoboth Elementary School and H.O. Brittingham Elementary School, have similar ponds that are not fenced. He said the pond at H.O. Brittingham is closer to an area where students congregate than the one at Milton Elementary and there have been no problems.
Commissioner Lynn Ekelund was unconvinced. She said she remained concerned about the safety of students near the pond without fencing. Ekelund was the only member of the commission to vote no.
The district anticipates 450 to 500 students attending the school when it reopens, although the capacity is for 620 to 650 students.
Milton Elementary School was built in 1939, and Crouch has said the renovations will largely keep the same footprint. The front columns at the entrance will remain, but the second floor will be expanded. Kindergarten, first, second and third grades will be on the first floor; additional third-grade classes plus fourth and fifth grades will be on the second floor.
Interiors will be modified, and a new playground area will be installed in the back. The new school will offer two athletic fields and a walkway to connect the school to the soon-to-be-built Rails to Trails extension.
For security, the entrance to the 120,000-square-foot school, and parent parking will be in the rear of the building. The bus pickup area will also be relocated to the back; Crouch said the current bus parking lot will be replaced with grass and landscaping.