Cape Facilities Task Force member airs views
Since joining the Facilities Task Force one year ago I have had and number of opportunities to hear the other parents’ and community members’ point of view on replacing or renovating our district's aging elementary schools. What I found is that there are some misconceptions about the districts planning and how the Department of Education funds building projects. I have made an effort to share what I know with those I have spoken to, but I realize that is an ineffective way to communicate to the Cape Henlopen community as a whole. Hence, I’m writing this letter.
First, I would like to address the issue of long range planning within the district. Some have reflected on the construction of the middle schools and high school, and have chastised the district for not building the schools bigger, thereby causing them to be at capacity from the day their doors opened. What the critics fail to realize is that this did not represent poor planning by the district, but rather restrictions placed by DOE. There has, in fact, been planning all along.
The Facilities Task Force has had three different committees to this point. I was a member of the third, and most recent, committee. The first and second committees evaluated the middle schools and high school. It was not so long ago, at the time when those buildings were constructed, that the Department of Education would only allow districts to build schools that accommodated their current population needs. Fortunately, the district had foresight when they built the middle schools to design them in such a manner to allow for 12 classroom expansions for each.
The district deserves credit for being “ahead of the curve” because since then a University of Delaware population growth study found Cape Henlopen to be the fastest growing district in the state! Thankfully, DOE is now taking the data from that study into consideration when determining the size and location of new schools being built. The Facilities Task Force has been informed by DOE that our district would be able to build its elementary schools to accommodate the 2030 projected school population. Because of diligent information gathering and thoughtful planning, the task force has been able to formulate a long range plan that will serve our community’s needs now and in the future.
The second misconception that exists is that renovating the current buildings and salvaging their recent additions would be a superior strategy to rebuilding. The task force considered this option and asked Tetra Tech to put together renovation cost estimates for each elementary school. The estimates for renovation were nearly as costly as a total rebuild. Since DOE will not fund a renovation if the cost exceeds half of the price to build new, renovating is not a realistic option.
As an exception, we were permitted to ask for renovations to Milton Elementary School due to the historical significance of the building, but there is no guarantee that it will be approved when the district sends its plan to the state. Regarding the issue of trying to salvage the recent (2007) additions to the schools, it was proposed that they could be used as district offices, administrative facilities, etc. The last I heard was that Tetra Tech would have to look into the feasibility of doing so.
Based on what I’ve heard while attending Cape Henlopen school board meetings, it seems the board appreciates the need to build a fifth elementary school, but the board does not appear to have reached a consensus on what is to be done with the other four aging buildings. To this point, I will offer two comments in favor of building new schools. One, if we are striving to be, as Superintendent Fulton states, the best school district in the state, then we must give our students 21st Century facilities to learn and grow in. I am proud to be a Cape parent and love the fact that our superintendent believes that we have that potential, and aims to have our district excel in all areas.
My second comment, is that I believe building new elementary schools restores equality within the district. I know that this issue applies predominantly to the Milton and H.O. Brittingham elementary schools, but if the district is striving for equality, building a brand new fifth school while failing to invest the same resources in our other schools within the district would, needless to say, be a step in the wrong direction.
It is my opinion that the quality of a school is in most dependent on the competence of its leadership and staff (an asset I believe the district has in spades); however, it also has to do with the improved learning environment that new buildings would provide our students. I believe that there is no better investment than what can be made in our children, and they must be educated in the best way possible. I would most certainly vote yes to a referendum to rebuild our current elementary schools and to construct a fifth school.
Lastly, I want to tell all the readers that the administration in the district is amazing. Spearheading the Facilities Task Force is Brian Bassett. His energy and dedication to the district is tireless, and we are so very lucky to have him to lead us into this new phase.
My hope is that more parents in the district feel as I do, and that we will stand behind the district and its efforts to carry us forward.
Facilities Task Force III member and Lewes parent