of the Claymont Community Coalition voiced strong opposition to
a change now under consideration in the program which, if the
state Department of Education approves, would substitute
construction of a new running track and refurbishing an existing
one in preference to restoring the swimming pool in the Claymont
Elementary School building.
the Mar. 19 meeting, the board authorized negotiations looking
for a new 10-year lease on its bus storage yard in northeast
Wilmington and received a proposed school calendar for the
coming year which would continue staggering school starting
times three ways instead of reverting to the previous two-times
president Nancy Doorey previously had said it was necessary to
make a referendum decision at that meeting in order to give the
state Department of Elections for New Castle County sufficient
time to arrange for a vote and have results prior to the board's
deadline for setting a tax rate for the fiscal year which begins
July 1. To be decided is whether to seek voter authorization to
sell the bonds to finance the district's 40% share of the cost
of the $95 million building program, approval to raise the
ceiling on the district's operating tax rate, or both. DelDOE
already has approved the state's share of the project cost,
subject to obtaining local authorization for the bonds at the
a half hours after the meeting's scheduled starting time and
three hours after the actual beginning, Doorey announced,
without disclosing a reason, that the referendum discussion
listed on the agenda would be postponed until a later special
meeting, most likely on Mar. 22.
Stoddard, one of the Claymonters who spoke earlier in the
meeting, charged that dropping the swimming pool from the
building program would break a promise made in return for
support for the first phase of school modernization in a 1994
board member Ralph Ackerman backed that contention, comparing
the situation to the closing of the former Claymont High School,
which is still a highly emotional issue in Claymont. "The
community was told in 1987 that it would be kept open; two years
later a very different [school] board decided to close Claymont
High School," he said. Ackerman first got into school
politics as an unsuccessful opponent of the closure.
superintendent Donald Fantine said he was "not aware of any
promises that were made," but he and others acknowledged
that putting the pool back into service has been a part of the
current building plan since it was first presented two years
ago. He disclosed that a committee appointed to follow up on
earlier recommendations by a financial review taskforce
concerning athletic facilities and playgrounds has recommended
the substitution in a report put into final form on Mar. 15.
that report were not available at the meeting. The Claymont
delegation had left the meeting -- along with all but about a
dozen attenders -- by the time the issue came up for discussion.
Coalition secretary Nora Lossť said later that the group had
heard about the recommendation and that it had been confirmed
for them by Doorey and other board members.
superintendent Victoria Gehrt said the committee's reasoning was
that the district has two operative swimming pools -- at Concord
High School and P.S. du Pont Intermediate School -- but no
acceptable track on which to hold meets or practice sessions.
Present tracks, she added, "are getting to the point of
need to look broadly at what is in the best interests of
our district as a whole," board president Doorey said.
of parents who have been involved with track and field at
Brandywine High School have for several years been advocating
replacing the track there. At one point they conducted
fund-raising, but the present status of that effort and availability
of money could not be immediately determined.
envisioned now, Gehrt said, is rebuilding of the track at Talley
Middle School and putting a new one, to be shared by the three
high schools, at a site other than one of those campuses.
Fantine said a new track would cost about $350,000 and
refurbishing one would run between $75,000 and $100,000. He put
the ticket for restoration of the Claymont pool at between
$500,000 and $600,000. There is other renovation work planned
for what is now Claymont Intermediate School in the building
said the pool was closed in 1991 "for lack of a $200
part," a chlorinator. Heat to that part of the building was
shut off as an economy move two years later and it has been used
since as a storage area. Nothing was done over the entire time
to prevent or arrest deterioration, he charged.
said that Claymont might be a good location for a new track
since it originally was built as a so-called all-weather track
with a rubberized surface. The surface is long gone and
technology has changed, he said, but the base remains. The existing
track is 400 yards and the current standard is 400 meters.
also disclosed that the Wilmington city government called off
discussions leading to the possibility of Brandywine sharing a
property it owns along Governor Printz Boulevard where the city
wants a sports complex built. The stumbling block, Fantine said,
was that the bus depot would eliminate about half the required
500 parking spaces and the city would not expect the New Castle
County land use department approval of such a wide variance. The
county previously blocked an effort by the city to annex the
site, formerly owned by an automobile dealer, just north of its
said the district also looked at the possibility of parking its
buses and servicing them at several sites -- including Merchants
Square at Edgemoor, the closed Channin school off Naamans Road,
the dairy on Beaver Valley Road and Brandywine Town Center on
Concord Pike -- but could not make any of them work. The only
alternative now, he said, was to seek a new lease to replace the
one which expires in April.
present site once was the location of a Ralston Purina
chicken-feed plant and is still marked by a decaying tower which
was part of that facility. It is now owned by an individual,
John Anthony. Brandywine's current rent is $58,000 a year.
location, adjacent to a public housing project which is
considered a high-crime area, is said to be a contributing
factor to the difficulty Brandywine is having recruiting bus
drivers. Several buses parked there were vandalized last summer.
driver shortage was cited as the reason for an apparent
necessity to stay with three starting times in the 2001-02
academic year. Fantine said the alternative would be to
"put more kids on [each] bus." That would require
lengthening bus runs -- adding an average of about 20 minutes
travel time -- and making pickups only on major roads instead of
some complaints about the schedule, Fantine proposed moving up
starting times, beginning the middle- and high school day at
7:35 a.m. instead of 7:45, the elementary at 8:15 instead of
8:30, and the intermediate at 8:50 instead of 9:05. That would
get all the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders to their homes
before 4:30 p.m., beating early-winter nightfall by a better
margin than was possible this year.
said the district administration is still looking for ways to be
able to return to a two-starting times schedule, but that
inability to hire enough drivers is a problem which extends well
beyond Brandywine. Fantine said that the idea of contracting for
additional buses would not work because contractors are facing
the same problems and will not guarantee their ability to serve
suggested a solution might lie in providing additional work for
drivers between their morning and afternoon transportation
duties so that their pay would be sufficient to make the job
more attractive. She suggest such things as data entry and lunch
and playground duty at the schools. At present, even drivers who
are scheduled for six school runs a day work and are paid for
only a half day.