MILFORD — Throughout its more than 90 years in existence, the Milford Middle School building has, in a way, lived many lives — as a high school, middle school, elementary school and the site of one of the first attempts at integration in Delaware.
Milford School District is hoping to write a new chapter for its historic Lakeview Avenue building starting with a referendum set for Oct. 27. If passed, Milford Middle School would be renovated, reconfigured and reopened to serve a new generation of about 1,000 fifth- and sixth-grade students.
“We have a prideful community and we, as a district, are proud of the students, families, staff and community members who have been a vital part of the school’s history,” Superintendent Kevin Dickerson wrote in an email. “The revitalization of the Lakeview Avenue school and property will enable us to restore the great educational value and rich history of the site.”
The building also would serve as a place for the school district to further reconfigure grades and alleviate pressure on other buildings in light of anticipated growth in the district.
Those wishing to cast a vote in the referendum may do so from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 27 at Benjamin Banneker and Lulu M. Ross elementary schools, Milford High School or Morris Early Childhood Center.
Eligible voters must be residents of Milford School District who are U.S. citizens at least age 18. You do not need to be a registered voter to cast a vote in the referendum.
Milford Middle School’s story begins in 1929 when it was constructed as a three-story building to address a need for additional space as the city’s population grew. Prior to its construction, Patrica Gerken, public information officer for the Milford School District, said Milford students of all grades were served by a north Milford school and south Milford school.
The administrations of the two schools were consolidated in 1877, Ms. Gerken said. In 1899, the Milford schools in Kent and Sussex counties were further consolidated into one district.
Within a year of occupancy, however, additional funds were provided by the state to expand the Lakeview Avenue building by five rooms. Even more funding was made available in the next few years to accommodate a growing population in Milford, as well.
When additions were completed in 1931, they came at the cost of about $206,500. Ms. Gerken said those funds came from a building program and bond issued to the school district after the various Milford schools were consolidated into one district.
According to Ms. Gerken, the Milford Middle School building has held every grade level from kindergartners through high school seniors.
She said the original three-story building started out serving junior and senior high school students. Then, a two-story wing was added for elementary school students.
High school students were eventually moved out of the building with the last graduating class of seniors to turn their tassels there in 1970.
The building entered its middle school phase — being appropriately renamed Milford Middle School. Ms. Gerken said the school began serving students in fourth through eighth grade for a period of time before transition into a school for sixth- through eighth-graders.
With the opening of Milford Central Academy in 2010, Milford Middle School solely served sixth- and seventh-grade students until 2013 when the building was closed.
Since then, Milford Middle School has sat vacant — though the community pride sustained by a building that served so many generations of students never dissipated, Ms. Gerken said.
In 2018, residents formed the Milford Middle School Committee with the goal of discussing the future and potential of the Lakeview Avenue building and property. The committee hosted a series of meetings where residents demonstrated support for restoring the building for uses as an educational facility.
“It became very clear to the district that the greater Milford community has great pride for the building and property,” Ms. Gerken said.
Dr. Dickerson, too, said that preservation of Milford Middle School due to its history was a high priority for many in the community.
“Preserving historic portions of the school was a common request ... during our community meetings,” he wrote.
He also highlighted the school’s historical marker for the “Milford 11” and one of the first attempts to desegregate schools in the state.
The 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education established that “separate, but equal” in public education, which saw the segregation of Black students, was no longer constitutional.
As a result of that decision, the Milford Board of Education voted to allow 11 Black students to enroll at Milford High School (now Milford Middle School) in the fall of 1954 rather than travel miles away to attend high schools in Dover or Georgetown.
That initial integration attempt was not successful, Ms. Gerken said.
“After a tumultuous fall in 1954, the members of the Milford school board resigned, leaving the state board to provide jurisdiction,” she said. “The state board disenrolled the 11 Milford students, ending desegregation in Milford until 1965.”
Ms. Gerken said the Delaware Supreme Court decided the school district had acted legally in allowing the Milford 11 to enroll, but acted too quickly to integrate its schools.
She said those 11 students were recognized and provided with honorary diplomas during Milford High School’s Class of 2012 commencement ceremony.
Ms. Gerken said, if the referendum is approved, the 1929 structure and façade of the structure will remain, with the inside of the building gutted and restored with newly configured modern learning spaces. The school’s gymnasium and auditorium spaces also will be preserved and modernized.
The estimated cost of the project is $57.3 million — the local share of the total cost is about $14.89 million and, if approved, the district will leverage the state share of about $42.4 million.
“We are very appreciative of the community’s leadership and involvement in the development of the project proposal,” Dr. Dickerson wrote. “The school has a rich tradition of student successes and achievements as well as community involvement.”