MILFORD — Nearly six years ago, the now-former Milford Middle School on Lakeview Avenue was closed due to unsavory reports from the state of Delaware, according to Superintendent Dr. Kevin Dickerson.
A committee is now hoping to change the fate of the vacant property.
Chairperson Bill Strickland told community members during a meeting Monday, Aug. 27 at Milford Central Academy, “Tonight represents the start of phase one. Tonight really is the evaluation of what we want for that property. And we’re seeking your input, as well as the input from this committee.”
Then, he added, the committee will review the practical realities and limitations of those suggestions.
“Phase one is very much centered on painting a portrait of what the district would like to see for this valuable piece of property which was heard from the community earlier as an asset,” Mr. Strickland said.
The Milford Middle School (Lakeview Property) Committee consists of a steering committee, led by Mr. Strickland, and facility committee, chaired by Garrett Grier.
“I think everybody’s intentions here are great. We all care about Milford and care about that property. We’re open to absolutely anything that’s out there. I just wanted to say thank you for coming out, and I look forward to being a part of this group,” Mr. Grier told attendees.
Dr. Dickerson offered a brief history of the old Milford Middle School building before the committee accepted comments from the public.
The majority of land, about 20 acres, was deeded to the district for $1 by the Grier family in 1928 to be used as a school. In 1929, the main part of the building was constructed. Additions were built within a few years to accommodate the educational need.
Over the years, smaller parcels of land were deeded to the district so the middle school would eventually take up the whole block, or about 23.8 acres in total.
“What we know as the Lakeview wing (on the left) was built in the 1940s and the gymnasium,” Dr. Glen Stevenson, building supervisor, said. “Everything from the gym on back to the maintenance shop was built in the late ‘60s. There’s a broad footprint with many different systems throughout the building. Everything, right now, is shut down.”
The school building now sits empty aside from the maintenance buildings and biweekly use of the Milford School Board. Window air conditioning units can be seen leaking from various parts of the building and vandals recently decorated the façade with toilet paper.
The fields behind the school, however, are used daily, including a track, two baseball fields and a parking lot. In case the district decided to sell the building, they subdivided the property so the fields could continue to be used by the public.
The question remains: What would the community like to see done with the building?
Milford resident and committee member Dr. Robert Rescigno, like others on the committee, encouraged the public to think outside of the box in hopes of coming up with new ideas and suggested uses or solutions.
“Don’t stop yourself from thinking about all those creative things. Whatever it is, don’t lock yourself up. Be open to that. That’s very important to us. We need to be able to understand. None of us have any bias to whatever it is. We want to know. We want to serve you,” he said.
Community members came forward to offer their ideas, many of whom wanted to see the building reopened to educational purposes.
“I had the pleasure to go to Milford Middle School back in the day in the early 1980s. I really think there’s a great opportunity for us as a city and as a state to repurpose this property,” Jim Purcell said. “I don’t want to miss out on this area as being an education source. I think there’s an opportunity for a school to be there. I think we need to be innovative in terms of what school that is. Specialized schools? STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematic school? Or something along the arts? Create a magnet school. . . Make it a community piece of property where it can serve everybody in the community, including our children.”
He also suggested the committee work with other nearby entities like Nationwide Healthcare Services which plans to open its Milford Wellness Village in the current Milford Memorial Hospital facility several blocks away from the school next year. Neighboring Dentsply Sirona, formerly known as Caulk, should also be a part of the conversation, he said.
Andrew Fulton suggested combing several ideas heard over the years, focusing on the current overcrowding of the Milford Senior High School.
“We need the middle school to be a middle school. I would recommend we keep the main portion of the middle school [the historical part built in 1929], then build state of the art around it. Milford would not succeed as a city without a good public education system. . . If I were bringing my family here, I would be looking at the education system, as well,” he said.
The cost of keeping the building maintained in a vacant state could be similar to the cost of asbestos abatement and other needs, Mr. Fulton commented.
David Murphy reached out with a similar comment.
“I’ve been a Delaware resident for 68 years, Milford for 38 years. I used to be a former building inspector for the city of Milford for 10 years. I’ve been through the building. It’s a great building. Before I was a building inspector, I was the superintendent of construction for three years for Milford hospital,” Mr. Murphy began.
He said based on his own experiences, he knew the old Milford Middle School could be fixed. But the cost was his concern.
“One of the questions I know a lot of people sitting here wondering is: What’s it going to cost? We were stuck last year with a tax raise for a transportation situation unbeknownst to a lot of us, and it really hit a lot of senior citizens hard.
“When you have a good skeleton to work with, try to use it. The inside of the building may be in bad shape to the eye, but we need to get somebody in there, an engineering company [to tell us] how bad is that building?”
The original building, as resident Patti Persia commented, is identical to at least two other buildings in Delaware: one in Georgetown and another in Lewes.
“. . . And those are still in use; they’re not abandoned,” she said. “It’s important to embrace our historical properties and make use of them. That original portion has historical reference to Milford. We love our historical building.”
She offered several ideas such as a ninth-grade wing, office space and a children’s museum.
“I think the main thing is this is five years down the road. We probably should have had these conversations in 2011, 2010, before the school was closed without warning,” she added.
Other building use ideas continued to flow from community members such as senior living apartments, open space and giving the property over to the city of Milford.
“We’re starting now with a clean slate. We have more members, more eyes and a collaborative nature. We have to start somewhere. Tonight’s the somewhere,” Dr. Dickerson told attendees during the meeting.
Mr. Strickland hopes the conversations lead to something new and exciting for Milford.
“Milford really cares. I’m from here. I tell people all the time I’m proud to say I’m a Milford boy. The reason I am is I always found this community to be some of the most passionate people that I’ve ever met in my life,” he said. “As long as we all stay together towards a constructive goal. . . It does continue to represent a great, physical piece of real estate for the community.”
The next meeting will be held Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria of Milford Central Academy. Comments can be offered during the next meeting or submitted online at https://www.milfordschooldistrict.org/apps/forms2/index.jsp?f=11577.