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Middletown Life

One for all, all for one

Aug 18, 2021 11:20AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Ken Mammarella
Contributing Writer

Some benefits of the Fairview campus near Odessa are dramatic, such as the shared 774-seat auditorium, part of a state-of-the-art performing arts center.

Some benefits are invisible, such as the thousand parking spaces that aren’t there.

Some benefits are in the future, from the synergy that could occur among what eventually will be 3,800 students in four buildings and 13 grades.

“We’re doing more with less dollars,” said school board president Richard Forsten.

The Appoquinimink School District is also doing something unique. District leaders said they’re the only ones they know of nationwide to have created such a campus, going from kindergarten to 12th grade (with a private company offering pre-K sessions as well). They like the idea so much that they’re doing it again on an 142-acre property near Summit. “Middle school students who demonstrate readiness can participate in advanced-level study at the high school, and older students will act as role models and mentors to the younger children,” a district webpage says.

“The masterplan ultimately strives to make the campus a place rather than a collection of buildings,” ABHA Architects wrote of its masterplan for Fairview, suggesting the central green could host athletics and marching band practice and community fairs.

Repeating the best in Summit

Appoquinimink is Delaware’s fastest-growing district, with lots of developable land relatively close to jobs. Student enrollment doubled from 1998 to 2008, when its second high school opened. Odessa High, part of Fairview, opened to ninth graders in 2020. Summit High is expected to open in five years.

At Summit, the district is copying the concept but is ready for adjustments since the second site is far smaller. So maybe no barn for ag students, maybe no black-box theater for theater students.

Fairview has four buildings on a 274-acre site.

• The Spring Meadow Early Childhood Center opened for kindergarten in 2012.

• Old State Elementary, for first through fifth grade, opened in 2012.

• Cantwell’s Bridge opened in 2020, for a year housing Silver Lake Elementary students while their school was expanded. It opens this fall as a middle school for sixth through eighth grades.

• Odessa High opened in 2020 for ninth graders, and it will add one more grade each year, until its first class graduates in 2024. “This way, students who were already attending another school were not forced to change allegiances,” a district representative said. Extra space at Odessa will be used through next year by students at Meredith Middle while their school is rebuilt.

Lots of infrastructure savings

Fairview’s unified construction plan saved a lot of money.

“There’s a nasty word called value engineering,” said superintendent Matt Burrows. “We get a certain amount of money from the state. We get a certain amount of square footage. And we cannot design outside that.” But they can certainly think outside that.

“It’s a great model that made a huge difference,” Ted Williams, president of Landmark Science & Engineering, said of Fairview.

As individual schools, 2,856 parking spaces would be required, but by sharing parking and striping bus parking areas for personal parking areas during peak nighttime events, Landmark cut a thousand spaces, or 10 acres of parking, he wrote in the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce magazine.

“The reduction in paving, while reducing the overall site construction cost, also had a positive impact on the environment by reducing the amount of stormwater flowing through treatment facilities and allowing the rainfall to naturally recharge the groundwater via larger lawn areas.”

In a follow-up email, he listed a few more savings: The project needed only one meter pit, rather than four for four buildings, saving $90,000. Three fewer connections to the water system saved $50,000. Three fewer vehicular entrances onto a public road saved $150,000.

Similar financial benefits occurred with every other element of the infrastructure. “There are economies of scale we wouldn’t have if we built four schools on four locations. It’s an old concept writ large,” Forsten said, referring to how the district began with one school housing all students.

Sharing staff, students helping each other

The proximity allows for sharing staff. John Gordon, for example, is the orchestra teacher for all three schools. Starting this fall, Odessa High band director Brian Endlein and choral director Rocky Tejada will be working with eighth graders, too.

Eighth graders will also be invited to join the high school marching band, said Odessa High principal Voni Perrine.

This fall, she expects older students to start mentoring younger students in other schools in theater and agriculture. “I promised my ninth graders – and their parents – opportunities they wouldn’t get at a traditional school because they’re leaders,” Perrine said, referring to Odessa High’s first students.

The buildings’ design embrace sharing.

The high and middle schools share a performing arts space with a big theater, a smaller space (called a black box) for smaller productions, a design shop, music practice rooms and classrooms. They also share a cafeteria kitchen, with an adjacent culinary arts kitchen. A two-story, 2,522-fixed-seat gymnasium in the high school allows for a smaller (and less costly) gym in the middle school.

The library/media center is sandwiched between the eighth and ninth-grade wings, and that adjacency allows advanced eighth graders to easily take ninth-grade classes.

Specialties at Odessa High

The high school also sports several businesses run by students, under the watch of their teachers. They already include a cafe (with breakfast, snacks, catering and take-home), a greenhouse, a florist and a design shop that has made nameplates for teachers and the Christmas ornaments that Perrine gave out last year. This fall, a bank and a school store will be added. Also new this fall: a pre-K operated by a company called Brilliant Little Minds, which Perrine said will employ high schoolers.

“It feels like a great sense of community,” said Meghan Mahoney, whose daughters Brenna and Taylor will be students there this fall. “They’re a community and have close ties to the MOT community.”

Many elements have to come together for the campus, including the creation of a school song for Odessa High. Perrine and Endlein reached out to Ben Nylander, a 2015 Middletown High grad who earlier this year earned his master’s in music composition at Bowling Green State University.

Nylander said his work in hymn-like, with four-part harmony, and he’s also working on an arrangement for the band. He turned down the district’s offer to pay. “It’s my gift to the school district. They’ve been such a massive influence on my life,” he said, noting that he hopes the same for his sister Abbie, a dancer studying at Odessa High. The song won’t officially debut for several months, but a preview is part of an Odessa High School grand opening video posted on YouTube.

As Odessa High students hear every morning, they are Determined, United, Creative, Kind Scholars.

As Perrine said in the video, these amenities will “enable our DUCKS to dream, discover and do.”

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