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PSeptember 8, 2011

103-Year View of Delaware’s School Investments

Delaware has traveled a very long journey in the way we have designed and constructed schools. From the one-room schoolhouses that dotted our rural landscapes to the ambiguously named urban schools (Public School #19 in Browntown was a great name wasn’t it!) to the segregated colored schools, our community has come a long way. Part of the fun of being from Delaware is that our family has had a front row seat to many of these developments since we opened the doors to our business in 1908. Our century of observations even included the era when Pierre S. Du Pont generously funded countless schools throughout the state, including the George W. Carver School in Frankford and the Tower Hill School in Wilmington. Tower Hill is where my great-grandfather is featured along with my grandfather and his brothers. As recent immigrants, we brought our vocational skills from Italy to install the brickwork and stonework that still stands today.

TowerHillStepsBut how are the current trends in school design and construction affecting our community in a way that we will talk about them a century from now? In these uncertain times, how are taxpayer investments paying off? The good news is, there is very good news. Districts up and down the state are using a number of techniques that we should be proud of:

A. Don’t spend twice

MarinerQuestions such as, “Why do we keep building customized schools?”, and “Why can’t we take the same design and repeat it all over the state?” Many Districts are responding to these questions. Cape Henlopen and Colonial are two examples of Districts that have taken proven designs and replicated them. Some of their schools were modified in nuance only (color, signage, orientation on the site, etc…). These nuanced schools allow the community to benefit from cost savings while having features that are fitting with the local culture. Cape Henlopen produced “The Twin Capes” with Beacon Middle School and Mariner Middle School. Colonial replicated Southern Elementary to create Wilbur Elementary.

B. Energy & Environmental Stewardship:

CHSGeothermalSay what you may about global warming, but it is a fact that electricity doesn’t get cheaper! Therefore, the movement by most Districts to produce energy efficient systems is simply smart investing. In the case of Indian River, they are producing large quantities of ice at night, when the electricity rates are less expensive. In turn, they then use the ice during peak rate hours, to efficiently cool the school environment. At the new Cape Henlopen High School, they invested in one of the regions largest geothermal fields. Since the groundwater temperature beneath the earth at Cape naturally 50 +/- degrees , a series of loops will use this constant temperature to produce cooling in the summer and heating in the winter. Once out of reach for many school districts, geothermal technology now gives them very short paybacks and significantly reduces energy consumption.

C. Classrooms of the future:

Exterior-2-skyAt the Appoquinimink School District, they invested in a classroom space that will act as a catalyst to inspire environmental dialog, education and curiosity. This outdoor classroom features a windmill, rainwater collection for the gardens, a solar field and a see-through floor that allows students to see how solar heat is transferred to a system to provide comfort for the facility.

At St. Georges Vo-Tech they have combined culinary arts and business by creating a retail-like environment for students to experience. Their commercial grade kitchens and small restaurant give students real practical experience with menu creation, food preparation, service delivery and collections (I forgot my wallet when I went to the restaurant and they had to deal with a deadbeat customer! Yes, I paid later that day). There is also a bakery where students learn how to prepare and operate a retail operation.

At Cape Henlopen High School they learned from their dark classrooms of the past to create the classrooms of the future. The school is equipped with an encellium system to create an environment that is rich with light but stingy with electricity. The encellium system uses sensors to measure natural light levels within the building. These controls detect when a room is occupied, the amount of natural light being admitted, and the lighting needs of the instructor. It will then raise or lower the lighting level of the light fixtures, thus reducing wasteful practices.

While we are clearly in an age of innovation and experimentation, and some investments will be considered mainstream and others controversial, I remain convinced that our community will look back at this era with pride at how Delaware has invested wisely in a generation of school facilities.


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