The Christina School District is requesting nearly $3 million in state funding for construction at the Brennen School, including a roof replacement, interior renovations and updating the plumbing, electric and HVAC systems.
The Brennen School, which houses the Delaware Autism Program, was last updated in 2016-17, but an unforeseen system failure and other obstacles meant that funding didn’t cover all of the proposed improvements. The school shares a campus on East Chestnut Hill Road with Kirk Middle, Jennie Smith Elementary and the Christina Early Education Center.
Last month, the CSD board approved the request for $2.9 million to cover the remaining improvements, which largely focus on the school’s original Purple Path wing. This wing typically houses the school’s youngest students, though 12 of its classrooms are inadequately sized to meet instructional and accessibility requirements.
Supervisor of Planning & Facilities George Wicks rated the Purple Path’s interior as “very poor,” indicating a need for complete repair or replacement. The project’s interior renovations would focus on reconfiguring classroom setup.
Purple Path’s HVAC and electrical systems are also rated “very poor,” as is the “envelope” (exterior roof, doors and windows), according to a report compiled by Wicks and presented to the CSD board.
As CSD plans to pursue a hybrid reopening later this month, some teachers and parents have criticized a lack of details from the district on updates to school ventilation systems, citing concerns about student safety.
Wicks said that the Brennen facility is not unsafe for students, adding that use of the Purple Path wing is currently restricted.
“It’s not about safety,” he said. “It’s about classroom programming, and what works best for education.”
Wicks explained that HVAC systems typically have a lifespan of around 15 years. While Brennen’s system is still operational, it’s due for an upgrade. He compared it to a car, saying it’s better to plan ahead than deal with an emergency.
“Most of the time, people don’t trade a car in because of safety concerns, they trade it because it’s starting to have all these little breakdowns just because it’s old,” he said. “You get to the point where you’re tired of fixing all the little breakdowns, and it’s not financially feasible.”
Wicks hopes to get funding secured from the state by early next year, and doesn’t anticipate any roadblocks to getting the full budget requested.
Last year, the district put in a request for about $100 million to update about a third of Christina school facilities. The state wasn’t able to accommodate such a high price tag, and the district received $11 million, which it supplemented with a capital referendum.
Because operations for the Delaware Autism Program at Brennen are entirely state-funded, the $3 million will not be part of the district’s normal budget and will not require a referendum.
Wicks estimated that the project includes about eight or nine months of work, and hopes to get underway next summer.
Once the state approves funding, the design and construction plan will undergo review for accessibility and security before the district puts it out to contractors for bidding. Wicks said it was important to undergo this process to make sure the facility is secure and equipped for students for years to come.