MAGNOLIA — It might have featured a couple of quirks from the traditional groundbreaking ceremony, but that didn’t stop the Caesar Rodney School District from celebrating its’ new $26 million elementary school on a steamy Wednesday morning.

The school is scheduled to be completed by December 2020 at 1038 Briarbush Road in Magnolia.

While school officials and local dignitaries, including CR Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and others, grabbed shovels and hardhats for the ceremonial groundbreaking at the site of the elementary school, bulldozers rolled in the background and a beehive of activity was already taking place by workers from contractor Richard Y. Johnson and Son, Inc.

For now, they were busy celebrating a school without a name that was already under construction.
“We haven’t named it yet,” said Dr. Fitzgerald. “We’re probably going to have to name it by December. There are a couple of names that are floating around right now but the board is considering at least four or five names right now.

“Anytime you name a building it’s one of those keynote things that’s there forever. It’s important when we name it that we get it right and I know who I would like to see it named after, but I don’t get a vote.”
Dr. Fitzgerald’s support would undoubtedly lie with his mentor, former Caesar Rodney Superintendent Dr. David Robinson, who was on hand for Wednesday’s ceremony. Several people in attendance said the new elementary school was the brainchild of Dr. Robinson.

Whatever that name turns out to be, Dr. Fitzgerald said it will be an honor to place it on the new 63,012 square foot Caesar Rodney Elementary School that will soon be inhabited by around 600 students from first to fifth grade. The project is the realization of a multi-year exploration and design effort.

“Here we are, after I guess what’s been a 20-year process, being brought to fruition,” Dr. Fitzgerald said. “Back in 1999 the school board had the foresight and decided that the Caesar Rodney School District was going to need to expand and grow in the area of Magnolia.
“So, they authorized a referendum which our community supported, and were able to purchase this piece of property — 25 acres.”

An artist’s rendition of the new school.

Long process
In 2015, the community again supported a referendum to actually build the school on that property in Magnolia — just across the street from the Country Field development — however, rising construction costs put a snag into CR’s plans.

“I have to give a shout out to our legislatures,” said Dr. Fitzgerald. “We passed a referendum, we’re getting ready to move forward, and all of a sudden we find out that the square-footage rate changes. We find out on top of that there are tariffs that are taking place with the cost of steel and other materials going sky high. What we thought we had planned for — all of a sudden — now we’re $6 million short.

“(At that point) we know that we cannot build the building that we promised our community, we cannot build the building that our community and our children deserve and need in the future unless we have the support of our legislatures. They went to bat for us and we were able to get $5.5 million approved through our bond bill, which really allowed us to build a building of 650 (future students).”

The Magnolia Elementary School project was part of the 2016 capital referendum and is the first new elementary school in the Caesar Rodney School District since Nellie H. Stokes Elementary was opened in 2004.
Connie Welde, who was the president of the Caesar Rodney School Board in 1999 when the idea of a school in Magnolia took off, credited Dr. Robinson with having the vision for it.
“It wasn’t (the school board’s) vision, it was Dave’s vision,” she said, of the former CR superintendent. “He comes in and says, ‘Well, we have this opportunity to buy some land,’ and we all looked at him and we went, ‘Land?’ And he started talking and he said, ‘This area (Magnolia) is exploding.’
“(Dr. Robinson) convinced us to put land into the referendum (in 1999). It was really his decision.”
It turned out to be quite a vision considering all the subdivisions and houses that have been built since that time two decades ago in the Magnolia area.
“Building this school requires the cooperation of many and is a total team effort,” Dr. Robinson said. “You have a plan, you have a vision and then you have to implement that and then go to the community to get the funding, and in this case get more funding, so it takes a real team effort and I congratulate the board leadership and Dr. Fitzgerald for making this school happen.
“I pray that this school is a place that is loving and nurturing and will educate many, many thousands of kids throughout the term of its life.”
State of the art school

Architects from the Becker Morgan Group, Inc. developed the CR elementary school site to allow for separation of buses and vehicular traffic and accommodate student drop-offs. The layout is also designed to allow the building to frame and protect the playground area at the rear of the facility.

The administration functions at the front of the school are expected to allow for easy public access and provide enhanced security features.
The school will feature a single-story wing of eight classrooms while another two-story wing will be home to 18 classrooms in addition to breakout collaboration spaces, a special education suite and teacher resource room.

The facility’s “T-shape” configuration will also allow for a centrally located cafeteria, gymnasium, media center and art and music classrooms.
The exterior of the school will feature low maintenance materials such as brick and metal roofing in conjunction with a front pergola and curved emblem wall.

Jessica Marelli, current CR school board president, said she can already see positive things in the school’s future.
“The project that we are here to celebrate today is more than just a brick building,” she said. “It will be a safe and loving home away from home for so many children in years to come. This would not be possible without the incredible Caesar Rodney staff of educators, secretaries, custodians, and administrators who will fill the halls of the building.”

Looking at the buzz of construction activity taking place around him, Dr. Fitzgerald said it has taken a lot of people to help the dream of a Magnolia-area elementary school come to life.

“As you can tell, there were a lot of people involved in this project and there will continue to be a lot of people involved,” Dr. Fitzgerald said. “Really, the heart and soul behind the project is Ken Starke (Caesar Rodney School District’s Supervisor of Facilities Management). Ken has done an amazing job not only here, but with all the construction projects that are taking place in our district.

“It’s pretty amazing when you drive around the district and take a look at our high school, look at the Charlton building, take a look at Postlethwait right now, and you can see all the amazing things going on in the Caesar Rodney School District as we get ready for the start of this school year and the start of many future school years.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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