Milford Middle School is going to close.
The only question is when.
A final decision on that timeline could come as early as Monday when a committee of parents, teachers and community members will recommend that the Milford school board vote to shutter the 84-year-old building on Lakeview Avenue at the end of the current school year.
“The problem is the middle school is in need of major infrastructure improvements and we don’t believe the department of education will provide the funding, or allow us to seek a referendum, to undertake that project,” said Milford Superintendent Phyllis Kohel, who led the 40-member committee that will present its report to the school board next week. “Ultimately, what happens now will come down to the school board, but we looked at every possible action and feel this is the best decision for the district and the community.”
As part of its recommendations, the committee also will propose the school board relocate hundreds of students in a move that would undo the grade-level feeder pattern that placed eighth and ninth graders in the Milford Central Academy starting in 2009.
If approved, the changes would mean students in grades 6 through 8 would attend Milford Central Academy, while students in grades 9 through 12 would attend the Milford High School, starting with the 2013-2014 school year.
“If we move the ninth grade over to the high school, you’ll have a student population there between 1,150 and 1,175, which is high because the building has a capacity of 1,190,” Kohel said. “But we’ve been at that number before and I know we can accommodate it, even if it means adding another modular classroom or two in the short term.”
Kohel said renovating the middle school would cost millions of dollars, the total cost of which would have to be borne entirely by local taxpayers.
“The state uses a rating system that takes into consideration a building’s age, condition and the amount of money needed when considering whether to put capital improvement money into a project,” she said. “We’ve had two separate analyses done of Milford Middle in the past five years and both concluded we would not qualify for that funding.”
While the building’s condition does not pose a potential danger to students and staff, Kohel said its infrastructure needs will soon begin deteriorating beyond what piecemeal repairs can keep up with.
“The mortar joints are being forced out by moisture trapped behind the walls and need to be repointed, the chimney needs to be replaced, the original heating pipes are still in use and are starting to break down,” she said. “It wasn’t built to handle the number of students there now or to handle the demands that newer technology places on the electrical system, so that needs to be upgraded entirely.”
Page 2 of 2 - Kohel said the most pressing fear is that the building’s outdated heating system could fail, forcing the students to other schools while the district undertakes costly repairs.
“Rather than have something like that happen, we feel it’s best to spend the next eight months to work on relocating the students next year,” she said. “We had also considered waiting to close the school until after the following year, but that just increases the potential that something will go wrong at the middle school before we’re ready.”
Kohel said district officials believe closing the middle school and eliminating its bus routes could save up to $400,000 a year.
She said the recommendations the committee will present to the school board on Monday will not include any proposals regarding the building’s ultimate fate.
“We’ve discussed everything from completely demolishing the building and constructing a new facility, to doing a partial demolition and keeping the façade in place, to partnering with the city and community agencies that might be interested in using the building,” she said. “But we feel that is something the school board can take it’s time in deciding.”
Kohel said funding for any demolition or construction project likely would come in the form of a future referendum, which also could include a proposed property tax increase for an additional wing at the Central Academy/High School complex off of North Walnut Street.
Kohel said no staff members at either school would lose their job as a result of the proposed consolidation.
“This year, we’ve been filling vacancies on the custodial staff with temporary hires so we can transfer our current staff into those positions at the end of the year,” she said. “I also have a plan for the principals and other administrative staff at the two schools, but I’m not ready to discuss it because the move had not yet been approved.”