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P.S. is going to be downsized to better accommodate the nine-, ten- and eleven-year-olds it now serves.

"Making the building more functional to suit current teaching methodology [has] the highest priority." according to the architectural plan for renovating and modernizing P.S. du Pont Intermediate School recently submitted to the Brandywine Board of Education.

The most extensive school renovation ever in Delaware, the two-year project will start the third and final phase of the Brandywine district's effort, begun in 1994, to update its schools. When finished, all will have been and the district will have two new elementary-school buildings replacing the existing Brandywood and Lancashire buildings.

The P.S. project differs from the others in several respects.

Not only is the structure at 34th and Van Buren Sts. larger than the others -- 206,000 square feet of floor area on four levels -- but it is closely identified with the history of the section of the city originally designated as its Ninth Ward. Many area residents still use that name to refer to residential neighborhoods in north Wilmington. Besides wanting to avoid offending sensibilities of present and past residents of the area and the large accumulation of P.S. alumni, the building is protected by a national historical designation.

The plan specifies that "most of the visible elements will be repaired [or] restored to retain the historical character of the building."

As with past renovations, most of the work not only will be done inside the building but will deal with its innards -- the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling and ventilation infrastructure that most people take for granted and never see.

In P.S.'s case, however, there necessarily will be a considerable amount of interior rebuilding that will be visible.

The building was constructed in the second quarter of the 1930s to be a junior-senior high school. The city's growth had resulted in gross overcrowding of its only secondary school, Wilmington High. Since the merger of Wilmington Public Schools with other northern New Castle County districts to achieve federal court-ordered racial desegregation in 1978, P.S.'s enrollment has been fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. A separate kindergarten and pre-school also has been located in the building.

Current enrollment is about 900 students and the district has set that as the level to be maintained in the future.

More than a generation of youngsters have since passed through the three intermediate grades and, while adaptations have been made, to render the building reasonably suitable for their age and size, it has never managed to be totally comfortable. The plan now calls for design changes that will have the effect of "scaling down the 'feel' of the building for the younger population that uses [it]."

The plan contains a litany of design changes intended to accomplish that.

The three grades will be grouped on their own floors -- fourth on the lower, fifth in the middle and sixth on the upper -- in separate wings "to create a 'small school feel'," the plan said. Several rooms will be made smaller to provide classrooms of like intermediate-level size. Common areas, such as music and art rooms will be grouped in the center of the building. Science laboratories will be reconfigured from their original high school orientation.

While that is obviously an involved undertaking it is further complicated by a stated desire to retain what is good from the old while providing for the new. That is best illustrated by comparing retention of classic appearance of the library with providing a new-style cafeteria similar to a 'food court' with which today's youngsters are familiar.

As would be expected, security is a primary consideration. Access to the building will be tightly controlled and the plan calls for fencing the open area between the building and Franklin Place which will be made into an age-appropriate play area. The general public will still be able to use  the area north of the building that originally was the P.S. High sports stadium.

The area on the building's lower level used for the kindergarten and pre-school will be made virtually separate. In addition to separate entranceway and administrative space, it will have its own eating area.

The plan calls for work to begin this summer with renovation of the lower level and the free-standing swimming pool building. Kindergarten and pre-school will be housed at Mount Pleasant Elementary near Bellefonte during the 2006-07 academic year.

During the 2007-08 year, construction will be done in the main area of the building with the students attending in the high-rise Burnett building at the northwest section of the combined campus.

Completion of the entire project is scheduled by August, 2008.

The plan estimates construction costs to be about $39.6 million. Original construction during the Great Depression era  came in at just under $2 million.

Posted on June  8, 2006

2006. All rights reserved.

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