“Please don’t think that we’re having this meeting because we’re going to apply for a referendum tomorrow. That is not true, The board hasn’t even talked about that.” - Milford Superintendent Phyllis Kohel

Superintendent Phyllis Kohel tried her best to stay away from the dreaded R-word during the district’s first community meeting of 2016 that included the future of the old Milford Middle School building,
However, that familiar word – referendum – eventually came up. It had to.
Kohel insisted the Feb. 10 meeting was about finding solutions for the vacated Lakeview Avenue building and other issues facing the district, not trying to gauge the public on whether or not it should go for another referendum.
“Please don’t think that we’re having this meeting because we’re going to apply for a referendum tomorrow. That is not true,” she told the attendees “The board hasn’t even talked about that.”
 “This [meeting] was just the first step in getting some public input as to what [the community wants] to see and what direction they want to go in.”
Referendums have become a common theme in the Milford School District. Two referendums, both with building programs attached, were struck down by voters in two of the last three years. A referendum seeking $3 million to help cover operating costs was approved last October .
Kohel knew there would be a perceived connection between a community meeting and a referendum.
“We need to know what you’re thinking, what you would support, and how we would go about doing what this community wants. We’re going to be talking about this for months to come.”
Carroll Boone, of Milford, didn’t believe the community was represented fairly. When he asked if people who worked for the Milford School District would raise their hands, it appeared  at least 75 percent of the 30 people attending did so.
Boone said he believes  the school district has gotten out of touch with the community.
“I think there’s a big-time disconnect,” Boone said. “There’s no representation here from the public, basically. I just talked to somebody who told me that they sent 4,000 letters out to parents of kids who were in school here [about the Feb. 10 meeting]. They need to advertise these meetings more.
“They need to have them on a day when people can get here. If you have them on evenings like [Wednesday, Feb. 10] how many families are home cooking dinner? They’ve got two or three kids and they don’t feel like coming because they’ve worked all day long. A Saturday would probably be a better time to do this.”
Kohel agreed and said it would be taken into account for future meetings.
There were different options for the old middle school raised. The ideas varied from turning it into a children’s museum, a police headquarters, or rebuilding on the site, to partial  demolition/ repurposing the building and turning the old classrooms into condominium-style apartments, among others.
Kohel said demolishing the old school and building a new one on the Lakeview Avenue site wouldn’t work because it wouldn’t fit on the property and there would be traffic issues. She said Milford will eventually need a new 1,600-student school.
When the attendees  voted on what they wanted to see done, the overwhelming  21 votes was to purchase land and build a new school. “Sell the middle school property” finished second with 9 votes  and “developing a partnership with Bayhealth” was third with 6 votes.
“If we put four classes in [a new school], we would definitely need a 1,600-student school,” said Kohel. “This property is obviously too small so the only option that we have is to purchase land and rebuild.
“It was interesting to see that they understood that and agreed to it and considered it as an option.”
The district can sell  the old  building separately from the field behind it after city council recently approved the district’s request to subdivide. That was done to preserve recreational space for the community.
 Kohel said the Feb. 10 meeting was just the first of several. She  said she knows there is an  emotional attachment with the building.
And that’s one of the reasons these meetings are taking place.
“If and when this district goes back out for a referendum we need your support, your thoughts and your backing,” Kohel said. “I don’t want to see a third failed referendum.
“At some point this district will need another building. I don’t know when that’s going to be. It’s certainly not in discussions with the board right now. But at some point this district will need another building because we’re growing and we don’t want to stifle that growth.”
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ABOUT MILFORD MIDDLE SCHOOL
The building was built in 1929 as the Milford High School. Additional wings were added in the 1940s and 1960s due to expanded enrollment. It became a middle school in the early 1970s. In 2012, it was deemed unsafe and the Milford School District decided to close the building in 2013.