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Middletown Life

An educational model for the future: The Fairview Campus breaks ground in Odessa

Mar 27, 2018 05:33PM ● By Steven Hoffman

In the years prior to his retirement as the Superintendent for the Appoquinimink School District in 2011, Dr. Tony Marchio had a vision for the school district, one that perfectly melded the paradigm for modern education with the architecture of design and the circumstance of need.

Marchio was, after all, the head of the fastest growing school system in Delaware, surging at the same rate as the population of the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend community, so he began to envision the expansion of existing schools and the building of new ones, and not scattered throughout the area but centered on one plot of land that would contain K-12 learning on one, inter-connective campus.

Marchio wanted to provide the campus with the space and the tools that would inspire students, teachers, administration and parents to leap into 21st-Century teaching and learning. He saw areas of education that could be done in the fresh air of the campus as well as the classroom. He saw smart boards and multimedia centers. He saw a continuum of curious minds, working together across the campus green from school to school, and student to student.

In 2009, a referendum was passed that enabled the school district to purchase a 273-acre plot of ground on Old State Road in Odessa, and on January 23, 2018, before a welcoming community of stakeholders, the district broke ground on what will become the Fairview Campus. While many local and state elected officials, the school board, construction partners and student leaders in attendance at the event only saw the existing Old State Elementary School and the Spring Meadow Early Childhood Center, the beginning of Dr. Marchio’s vision had already been planted – one that will join these two educational centers with the new Cantwell’s Bridge Middle School, and Odessa High School.

Last December, the community approved a $268 million referendum that will create the first and only comprehensive K-12 public school campus in the nation, and promises to serve as a model of 21st-Century education. In addition to common spaces that encourage learning between schools, the Fairview Campus will include a performing arts center, a media center and kitchen – which will all be used as learning centers.

In addition, an on-site, public-private child care partnership will create a learning lab for students enrolled in the Early Childhood Pathway, as part of a school-within-a-school focus on career pathways that will include student-run enterprise centers like a bank, café, coffee bar, florist, design studio and a school store.

The Fairview Campus will take an environmentally responsible approach, as well. Instead of creating three different access roads, three separate sewer systems, and separate parking, the campus will create one, comprehensive "footprint" that is expected to dramatically reduce impact on the environment and other resources in the community.

“The district did a great job in educating our community in terms of what our need was, and it all goes back to Dr. Marchio,” said Appoquinimink School District Superintendent Dr. Matthew Burrows. “He had a vision for the campus that dated back to before the land was purchased in 2009. We had architects that laid out the campus and began to design the buildings.

“I think the key component of the design began to take shape when our teachers spoke to architects about what they needed, in the form of hundreds of pages of comments, much of which was taken directly from what their students wanted.”

To best prepare local residents for the 2016 referendum, the district began rolling out its ten-year plan for the Fairview Campus in January of that year, and as the referendum approached, Burrows said the school district stepped up its efforts to provide the public with more information.

“We began to meet with stakeholders, and each took responsibilities as team members,” he said. “Some were involved in social media, some connected with businesses, and some formed parents groups.

“We had done a lot of presentations, and the concept was building momentum. It’s always in the back of your mind that ‘what if all of these people have spent all of this time and work and it doesn’t pass?’ But the truth is that the district did a great job to prove its case for this expansion.”

Together with Robert Hershey, who will oversee the project as its construction project engineer, Burrows, architects, and members of the school district’s Building Utilization Committee made road trips to school districts throughout Pennsylvania, visiting schools in Council Rock, Phoenixville, Coatesville, West York, Upper Dublin, as well as to Dover High School in Dover.

“We thought about how we could apply their ideas and fit them into the budgets that are set in Delaware, which in turn keeps property taxes stable,” Hershey said. “You take these ideas, you bring them back and you make them fit within the budgets that have been established.”

From an educational standpoint, the Fairview Campus will allow students from different grade levels to work collaboratively with each other instead of in isolation, allowing younger students the opportunity to interact with older students, and older students to serve as mentors.

“The design of the buildings will be such that an 8th grader with advanced course work will be able to walk to the 9th grade class, take the class, and then walk back,” Burrows said. “There is an opportunity that isn’t there when you have separate buildings located in different areas of the district.”

Perhaps the crown jewel of the Fairview Campus will be its performing arts center, which will showcase an 820-seat, two-level theater, smaller black-box performance spaces, and classrooms that teach not only the performing arts, but provide opportunities for students to learn set, sound and lighting design, and technical aspects of the performing arts.

“This auditorium was designed literally to be a theater, and the vocational aspects of the performing arts were also taken into account,” Hershey said. “We had specialty consultants brought in from New York, and work with us to create a vision that will be more in keeping with an actual theater than a typical school auditorium.”

The Fairview Campus is being designed by Wilmington-based architects BSA+A and ABHA – who had worked together on the construction of the Old State Elementary School and the Spring Meadow Early Childhood Center. The new schools are expected to be completed by the Fall of 2020, in conjunction with school renovations to Silver Lake Elementary school and Meredith Middle School, which will be razed in 2020 and rebuilt. These projects will require that students from each school attend school on the Fairview Campus during this construction period.

While the Fairview Campus is being conceptualized and built with 2020 in mind, Burrows said, it also needs to accommodate the vision of what contemporary education will look like, as well as reflective of the projected future population of the M.O.T. Community.

“We see education transforming, and that’s one of the challenges in the design of this campus,” he said. “We’ve been designing this for years, but we’re not going to see it functioning for another three to four years. The question remains, ‘What’s going to change in education in three and four years, and how can we make sure that we can remain at the cutting edge at that time, and be able to provide what’s needed?’”

“What excites me most about this project is the opportunities that students are going to have when they step into this facility,” Burrows added. “It will be exciting to see the things they will experience, as they makes strides into their careers. Some of the planning has been rigorous, but at the heart of it will be the opportunities that students will have when they enter into this campus.”

For Hershey, the construction of this new campus will be the 12th, 13th and 14th new schools he has supervised the construction of.

“Seeing this come to fruition, to be a part of a team that is helping to create something that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the state, is quite an opportunity,” he said. “I remember visiting the property on day one with Dr. Marchio, and now I get to see the baton of progress pass from him to Dr. Burrows, and then to our future students.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]

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