LB students might see delayed move

Lord Baltimore Elementary School Students have taken up residence at the recently renamed John M. Clayton School (JMC) this year, while construction crews complete an extensive renovation project at Lord Baltimore.

Those students are slated to return to Lord Baltimore next fall. However, in light of delays in the early going (awaiting approvals from various state agencies), they may be sharing their cafeteria, or at least their kitchen, with construction workers.

EDiS President Ted Dwyer, coordinating construction management at this and various capital projects around the Indian River School District (IRSD), said it was still possible they could make the timeline — a mild winter could make the difference. “Our planning’s based on a normal schedule throughout the school year, and assuming a normal winter,” Dwyer said. “We have a lot of outside work to do, and the weather will affect that.

“As far as the interior work and the HVAC, we should be able to complete that work, no problem,” he said. “But if it gets too cold, we won’t be able to pour masonry.”

Dwyer said the first order of priority would be completing the new connectors, the stair towers and elevators. “We must have those completed, or we won’t be able to open the school,” he pointed out.

The building wouldn’t pass fire marshal’s inspection without those elements in place — therefore, Dwyer said, they’d remain focused there and leave the cafeteria and kitchen for last. He expected crews would have the cafeteria itself completed, so students would have a place to eat lunch — but he did not believe the kitchen would be finished until late October 2006.

This would require the district to prepare school lunches elsewhere and arrange for their transport to Lord Baltimore, until the kitchen could be completed — a less-than-ideal scenario.

With nearly a year to make adjustments, why didn’t Dwyer think they could pull the project back onto its original timeline? While weather would remain the primary factor, he said, there were also manpower shortages, especially in Sussex County, and it was hard to find employees with an interest in overtime, or working weekends.

And even if they could find people willing to work, extra hours cost money, and they were on a limited budget. “It’s very difficult to accelerate a project,” Dwyer said.

Which is why he broached the topic at the Sept. 27 IRSD School Board meeting — did board members want to keep pushing the existing schedule of district construction projects, or make some modifications now?

As it stands, the district plans to: (1) move the elementary students back to Lord Baltimore in the fall, (2) move district personnel and Southern Delaware School of the Arts (SDSA) students out of the Indian River Educational Complex (IREC), to the JMC, (3) renovate IREC and move everybody back and (4) reassess their needs, deciding whether to renovate JMC as a middle school, or as a K-8, or something else.

Either way, as Board Member Greg Hastings pointed out, the time was drawing near when architects/engineers Becker Morgan would be looking for guidance on how to begin design for JMC.

Whether IREC or JMC, Becker Morgan would need some input by Christmas, Dwyer said, for a Jan. 1, 2007 construction start (at either building).

“It’s unclear to us how you plan to use both of those facilities (JMC and IREC),” noted Becker Morgan’s Sandy Carpenter. “We can just go ahead and renovate, fix-up and do the HVAC, but in the end, if you’re not using it as a school building, we’re going to have to go back and redesign.”

Board President Charles Bireley asked Dwyer why he was suggesting changes to the schedule that had been in place for years (IREC, then JMC). “I’m not trying to push one or the other,” Dwyer said. “I’m just trying to tell you where we are.”

Bireley and Hastings conferred, and recommended the Building and Grounds Committee meeting slated for Oct. 3 become a special school board meeting instead, specifically to discuss construction scheduling options.

In other business, Dr. Susan Bunting, director of instruction, detailed recent district results in state testing, and the districts overall accountability ratings for the “2005 Cycle.”

The IRSD earned a “Commendable” rating for the cycle, just missing “Superior” status.

As Bunting explained, every sub-group at every school had to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the district as a whole to achieve top ranking (the IRSD did garner Superior ratings at 10 out of 13 individual schools, though).

District Superintendent Lois Hobbs reported on national recognition at Long Neck Elementary, which recently earned a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award — the fourth school in the district to do so. “I believe all schools in the district can be Blue Ribbon schools, and we’ll continue to work toward that,” Hobbs said.

Also at the Sept. 27 meeting, representatives from Mountaire Farms presented district personnel with a check for $10,000, part of the company’s continuing support for Project VILLAGE.

Project VILLAGE is a pre-school program, for economically disadvantaged, and especially non-English speaking, youngsters entering the public school system.