July 8, 2004

Replacing Brandywood and Lancashire Elementary Schools with a new building, 'outsourcing' student transportation and developing a large athletic complex on the Claymont Intermediate School campus were among the new ideas put forth as a taskforce began bringing together the elements of a proposal for a capital referendum in the spring of 2005.

Taskforce co-chair Jeff Bullock stressed that the ideas contained in reports from three committees, which until now worked independently of each other, are very preliminary. At this stage, everything is "a very, very open question" and there are "some things that need close scrutiny" before the taskforce is ready to take a preliminary set of recommendations to public hearings prior to coming up with final recommendations to present to the school board.

But, he told a taskforce meeting on July 8, the committee recommendations comprise "a very good raw report from which can work ... to fit together our overall plan."

Combining Brandywood and Lancashire would be a less costly alternative to remodeling both buildings, Ed Capodanno, chair of the committee which evaluated the previously reported staff proposal for the third and final phase of the district's renovations program. The schools, which are relatively close to each other, were built in the late 1960s and feature the now educationally obsolete concept of clustering classrooms around central areas to be used for joint instruction.

The committee recommended that feasibility of either constructing one new elementary-level building to serve northwestern Brandywine Hundred or replacing both buildings with new ones instead of renovating them at an estimated combined cost of $23.2 million be further studied. Its actual recommendation was to approve virtually the entire renovations plan previously presented by capital projects manager John Read, which calls for renovating them.

However, the companion committee which looked into what buildings might be closed to pare the gap between facilities capacity and projected enrollment recommended that Brandywood Elementary be closed if the present four-tier grade configuration is retained. That would reduce projected excess capacity in the 2009-10 academic year to about 1,800 students; not closing Brandywood would result in excess capacity of about 2,400.

An alternative scenario would close both Hanby and Springer Middle Schools in a realignment to a three-tier grade configuration. Claymont, Harlan and P.S. du Pont Intermediate would join Talley as middle schools serving fifth through eighth grade. Kindergarten through fourth grade would be housed in the existing primary schools. If that scenario were followed 2009-10 overcapacity would be about 850.

Assistant superintendent Tammy Davis, who chaired that committee, said going to a three-tier configuration would be "developmentally appropriate" and would address the enrollment loss the district experiences when children move from third to fourth grade and have to change schools.

David Blowman, the district's chief financial officer, said a still-incomplete analysis indicates that closing an elementary school would result in a potential annual savings of between $250,000 and $350,000 of local money in the district's operating budget. Closing a middle or high school would save between $450,000 and $550,000.

The concept of developing an athletic complex at Claymont was put forth as an additional element to a recommendation that up to 45 athletic-related projects spread though the district be included in the referendum plan. The committee ranked them by priority and placed a pricetag of just over $1 million on them. Committee member Bill King, who presented that report, acknowledged, however, that that estimate, taken from a year-old consultant study, is probably considerably lower than what the actual cost would be if all the projects were undertaken.

Without going into detail or providing a cost estimate, the committee described its idea of what would result at Claymont as a "comprehensive" group of facilities. Possibly financing it by a separate bond issue, the district might "look at other partners that might assist in this effort," the committee report said. The complex might be administered as a county park or under an arrangement similar to the one by which the Wilmington Parks & Recreation Department uses the fields around P.S. du Pont.

The committee also recommended what King referred to as "building a strong athletic program from the ground up." That would include intramural sports from elementary grades through high school. He dismissed the notion that the number and variety of youth sports clubs in the area satisfy the need.

The committee also called for further study of whether to add lights at its sports facilities, especially the high school stadiums. Taskforce member Rick Geisenberger noted, however, that the just-enacted state capital spending budget provides money for another school district to remove lights from its high school field.

In recommending that the district begin planning now for what it will do regarding student transportation when the current lease on the site where it stores and maintains buses in northeast Wilmington runs out in 2011, Capodanno's committee concluded that one possibility would be for the district to phase itself out of the transportation business over a period of five years. Brandywine is the only district in the state which does not provide at least some of its student-transportation requirements by employing outside contractors.

Going that route "may cause a little controversy," Capodanno told the meeting. "We're not saying do it; we're saying to look at it."

How to deal with transportation facilities was the only area in which the committee disagreed with Read's plan. His recommended that the transportation and facilities maintenance departments be combined at a new location. The committee said that the facilities department should stay where it is -- on the Claymont campus -- and that the district's headquarters, now in a former elementary school building in Radnor Green, could be combined with the transportation department.

Davis's committee recommended that the administrative offices be relocated to an active school building. Based on capacity and enrollment figures the committee presented, Concord High would appear to be the preferred location.

Board president Nancy Doorey questioned whether it would be "educationally sound" to reduce the size of the Concord student body to about half of what it is now because that would make it difficult to justify having advanced-placement and other offerings which attract proportionately few students there.

It was not clear why Concord's projected enrollment under the three-tier alignment would drop to about 675 students but only to about 1,075 if the present four-tier alignment were kept since both scenarios would have the district's three high schools serving ninth through 12th grade.

Capodanno's committee agreed with Read that the Bush Early Childhood Center should be replaced with a new building and listed that project for fiscal 2009. Committee member Lori Walls said she was amazed by the quality of the program presented at Bush considering the facilities in which the staff has to work. "They make do. ... The library is literally in a closet," she said.

P.S. du Pont was given top priority on the committee's recommended schedule with that work listed for fiscal 2008. Capodanno said that was because it's $44 million cost is almost twice that of the next most expensive project and inflation would add about $1.3 million to that each year the P.S. project is put off.

Renovation of Springer would take place in fiscal 2009. It would be followed by Hanby and Brandywood in 2010 and Lancashire and whatever is decided to do about the district headquarters in 2011.


2004. All rights reserved.

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Read previous Delaforum article: Extensive school renovation plan presented
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Fate of schools linked to grades configuration

Read the committee reports at the Brandywine School District Web site.

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