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CRSD buys former Catholic school for $12M

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St. Thomas More Academy Magnolia Middle School Caesar Rodney School District

Caesar Rodney School District acquired the former St. Thomas More Academy, and has renamed it Magnolia Middle School. | PHOTO COURTESY OF GOOGLE MAPS

MAGNOLIA — Nearly two years after the Caesar Rodney School District (CRSD) began leasing the former St. Thomas More Academy for use as a middle school, the district has now acquired the property.

Dover-based CRSD, the largest public-school district in Kent County, acquired the 33-acre property just north of Magnolia in the Champions’ Club at Jonathan’s Landing community for $12.3 million on March 3, according to Kent County land records.

The 22-year-old Catholic school closed in June 2020 due to declining enrollment and financial burdens, according to a letter written by Rachael Casey, the school’s then-principal. St. Thomas More had 48 students in the last academic year.

“Since we no longer use the building and we don’t need the problem of dealing with it, it was decided to sell the property,” said Robert Krebs, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, in 2020.

CRSD has 7,859 students enrolled across its 15 schools, according to the Delaware Department of Education data, already outpacing a projected enrollment growth made nearly a decade ago. It’s expected to continue to grow, leading the district to explore expansion of its facilities in recent years.

The district began leasing the property for use as its fourth middle school in May 2021, renaming it Magnolia Middle School. Today, about 400 students attend the school that has about 55 staff members, according to Mike Williams, a CRSD spokesperson.

The district completed the acquisition less than two years later. It received $10.5 million in the state Bond Bill for the purchase and was able to use its existing impact fee funds for the local share, allowing CRSD to avert seeking a referendum to raise taxes for the acquisition.

It has already invested about $1 million in the property to upgrade electrical, flooring, and the kitchen, among other needs, Williams said. Further upgrades and ongoing operational costs at Magnolia Middle School are part of an April 22 referendum though.

The campus has three buildings for classrooms, a multi-purpose building and gymnasium. The grounds include ballfields and soccer fields. The school was built after years of advocating for a new Catholic high school south of the C&D Canal after Holy Cross High School in Dover closed in 1987.

The land was donated in 1994 and a capital campaign raised $1.6 million to start construction two years later. The school was expanded in 2003 with a chapel, lobby, cafeteria and media center and fine arts suite, according to The Dialog, a Catholic newspaper.

The Holy Cross diocese took over St. Thomas More Academy in 2017.

Associate Editor Katie Tabeling contributed to this story.

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