A decade's effort: Take a look inside Dover Area School District's brand new high school and renovated middle school
After postponing for one year due to the pandemic, Dover Area School District finally celebrated its new high school and middle school on Saturday.
Both buildings opened for classes in the fall of 2020, but their conception began nearly a decade ago, according to Dover school board President Nathan Eifert. The board was mainly concerned about the aging infrastructure in the district's intermediate building, as well as capacity issues as Dover's enrollment grew.
The $70 million project officially began in 2018, with a groundbreaking at the site of the new high school. A few feet away stood the intermediate school, which would later be demolished and paved over to form the high school's student parking lot. During construction, the school remained open for classes.
"We were building a building around a building," Eifert said.
The intermediate school opened in 1968, and the only significant update it received came in 1971, when the district installed a pool, according to Dover's director of career and technical education, Charles Benton. By the time it closed, its age had been showing for a while. Only the classrooms had air conditioning, the corridors were narrow, and asbestos filled the walls.
The site of the new middle school did not require a groundbreaking, as that building was already open as the district's former high school. The transition meant a massive upgrade in space for all students, with middle school students moving from the 128,565-square-foot intermediate school to the rebuilt 210,000-square-foot middle school, and high school students going to the new 290,000-square-foot high school, according to Dover spokesperson Brad Perkins.
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The added space allowed Dover to add sixth grade to the middle school's roster, alleviating pressure for the district's elementary schools, Eifert said.
"It was really a first-class effort," he said.
Dover's old high school was first a wooden building with just four classrooms built in 1928, Benton said. Since then, the building has seen major upgrades every few decades until the most recent renovations coinciding with the new high school's construction.
The renovations mainly included expanding some areas near the auditorium and administrative offices, as well as pulling back parts of the building near the main lobby. Perkins said the geographic footprint of the building remained the same.
When Dover's middle schoolers started classes in the fall of 2020 at the new middle school, they suddenly had access to resources they normally wouldn't get until they reached high school, such as a greenhouse, high school labs and an auxiliary gym. The building also features three open rooms, dubbed "flexible" classrooms, that any teacher can access to use for a range of purposes, Perkins said.
The brand new high school features two courtyards and tons of natural light from the mosaic of windows lining the walls. Each hallway is swathed in Dover's colors — red, gray and black — and they are wider than normal, with only a few lockers available on the building's north side. Perkins said a survey of students revealed that most students preferred carrying all of their materials with them between classes, rather than use a locker.
Space is abundant throughout the high school, which features a multi-floored gym, an auditorium that seats more than 1,000 people, multiple lounges and flexible classrooms, and huge laboratories that interconnect so students can access different materials and state-of-the-art equipment in one setting.
Though the building has only been open a little over a year, students have already left their mark on the high school. Overlooking the cafeteria from a perch atop a white pillar is a metal eagle, which Perkins said was welded by students last year. Several murals painted by alumni line the hallways, brought over from the former high school-turned-middle school, Perkins said.
Dover is paying for the $70 million project mainly through a bond and the district's capital projects fund, Eifert said. The bond is expected to cost the average taxpayer an extra $27 a year for nine years, he said.
While the new schools were a large project, Eifert said the chosen proposal was actually the most cost-effective plan of the four options presented to the board. Even a plan to renovate the old intermediate school along with the old high school would have cost more, he said.
"There were options pushing almost $100 million," Eifert said.
More than a year since their openings, the new schools have already made a difference to students. Benton, who has children in the district, said the improvements have changed their outlook on their education.
Eifert said he takes pride in what the district has accomplished. Few school districts can say they opened a brand new building and a renovated building during a pandemic, but Dover can, he said.
Though the recognition came a year late, Eifert said he is glad the community could celebrate these accomplishments at the grand opening.
"These buildings belong to the community," he said.
— Reach Erin Bamer at email@example.com or on Twitter @ErinBamer.