Building upgrades will increase safety and ease overcrowding in Delaware schools if voters approve a bond issue on the May ballot, district officials told members of Delaware City Council last week.
At a joint meeting of the Delaware school board and City Council held Monday, Jan. 28, Superintendent Paul Craft reviewed a wish list that includes remodeling efforts, additions to existing buildings and changes to school driveways -- all to be implemented if a 3.6-mill bond issue is approved by voters May 7.
Because the district restructured existing bonds, the issue represents just 2 mills worth of new millage. In all, it would generate $50 million to fund expansions of seven of the district's eight school buildings and cost homeowners about $62 annually per $100,000 of property value.
The board approved the bond issue last month, but the new presentation provided a first look at what improvements are on the table.
They include numerous additions to existing schools that board members said would ease crowding and save money by delaying the need for new buildings.
Currently, five of the district's eight buildings are over capacity, with enrollment expected to continue to climb steadily in coming years. Projections show the district's population could swell from its current 5,318 students to nearly 6,000 by 2020.
Craft's presentation included a full rundown of specific projects to be completed if the bond issue passes.
All schools except Willis Intermediate School would get physical additions to house additional classrooms, eliminating the need for outdoor trailer classrooms at Smith, Woodward and Carlisle elementary schools.
Those same three elementary schools would be outfitted with new gymnasiums. Currently, they use a single room for cafeteria and gymnasium space, leading to overcrowding and scheduling conflicts.
Craft also said the bond issue would improve safety, because tax dollars would fund remodeling efforts to move main offices in some schools closer to the front doors, so visitors can be screened before they enter.
Several buildings, including Conger and Schultz elementary schools, have centrally located offices.
"We need to be able to secure the buildings and pass people into an inner foyer and get a sense of what their business is before you pass them into the interior of the school," Craft said. "We have buildings that just weren't configured for that."
Officials are looking more closely at safety measures after December's student massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Additionally, driveway changes to ease traffic during dropoff and pickup times and improve safety for walkers would be implemented at Conger, Woodward and Schultz elementary schools and Dempsey Middle School.
"School safety is about so much more than locked entrances and having school resources officers," Craft said. "It's also about getting our kids to and from school safely."
He also said more parking spaces would be added at Hayes High School, and outlined plans to build a new field house at the high school so locker rooms located in the building could be retrofitted to serve as classroom space.
Other plans include the construction of extra common space at Hayes and a dedicated sixth-grade wing at Dempsey Middle School.
With the additions would come grade realignments -- but not until the 2016-17 school year.
That's when the district would revert to a traditional grade distribution, with the elementary schools housing grades K-5 and Dempsey Middle School housing grades 6-8.
Instead of fifth- and sixth-graders at Willis, Craft said, the historic building would house all of the district's administrative offices, an alternative education program focusing on computer learning, preschool programming and possibly community space.
"The commitment of this board of education and the administration is that Willis will always be an important part of what we do in our district and our community," Craft said.
He added computer renderings of all the planned additions will be developed over the next three to four weeks.
City leaders expressed vocal support for the plans.
"I think we as a council understand that when it comes to economic development and everything we bring in commercially, it's important that we have a strong school district," Mayor Gary Milner said.