As Cape Region kids go back to school, Cape Henlopen School District officials are set to get to work on a $30 million renovation to Milton Elementary School.
The district cleared its final hurdle to beginning construction when the town’s planning and zoning commission approved the final site plan for the project.
The measure was not without some controversy, as approval passed by 4-2 vote and under the condition that the school district provide complete plans to the town engineer by Monday, Sept. 9.
At issue were questions from town engineer Sharon Cruz to the district that remained unanswered at the time the commission met Sept. 3. Construction details that were not spelled out in the district’s plans included the locations of sewer mains, depictions of sidewalks, labeling of fire service lines, and lighting and gas plans.
Brian Bassett, the district’s director of capital projects, said the district wanted to get final approval for the plans on Sept. 3 in order to meet deadlines to have the new school open by the beginning of the 2021 school year.
While Milton Elementary School is under construction, students will use the old H.O. Brittingham School on Mulberry Street. Bassett and the district’s chief engineer, Zachary Crouch, said the district did not want to have to move students and teachers during a school year, so it is important to have the school ready on time.
Cruz said the district needed to address inconsistencies with the plan before she felt comfortable with a vote allowing final approval.
“There are no design issues here. The design is acceptable. I just feel that these corrections should be made before final,” Cruz said. “If the information is required to be shown on the plan, it should be shown correctly.”
Crouch expressed frustrations with the process, saying town officials were not responsive to his queries trying to get questions clarified.
“We addressed every comment possible,” he said. “That’s just frustrating. This could have been easily addressed. It’s not going to change our design.”
The commission had to balance between their engineer’s opinion and respect for the district’s timeline. They asked Town Solicitor Seth Thompson whether they could provide approval with the condition that the district submit updated plans by a certain date. Thompson said they could.
Commissioner Maurice McGrath, one of two no votes, questioned the wisdom of that move, saying a vote in favor could set a precedent that others could try to emulate.
“I want you to get it done but at the same time it needs to be done right. To me, part of it seems like a rush job,” he said.
Commissioner George Cardwell, the other no vote, said, “Final approval is just that, it’s final approval. Final approval with a series of conditions just kicks the can down the road and we shouldn’t be doing that. We shouldn’t be doing that for anybody.”
Commissioner Donald Mazzeo said he voted in favor with reluctance because of the procedure, but along with commissioners David Allin and Larry Lieberman and Chairman Richard Trask, they trusted the school district and Cruz to work things out before the Sept. 9 deadline.
The new school will keep the front columns with a similar footprint but an expanded second floor. 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 soccer fields and a walkway to connect the school to the Rails to Trails extension.
The entrance to the 120,000-square-foot school and parent parking will be in the rear of the building instead of the front for security purposes. The bus pickup area will also be relocated to the back. The current bus parking lot will be replaced with grass and landscaping and the gym and the auditorium will be restored.
The district anticipates 450 to 500 students attending the school when it reopens, although the capacity is for 620 to 650 students.