A plan to build and renovate elementary schools in the Cape Henlopen school district now awaits school board decision.
"The current schools are antiquated and overcrowded," said Marcy DeEmedio, task force member. "We want to be able to provide our kids with a 21st century education."
The facilities task force presented a plan to build four new 700-student elementary schools and renovate a fifth existing school. Plans also call for additions to both middle schools. The task force is composed of 23 members – 12 current school district employees, nine community members and two retired school district employees
The group used a 2007 University Delaware study on projected school enrollments in establishing the need for larger schools. The report estimates student populations in five-year increments beginning in 2005 and ending in 2030; Cape's student population is expected to climb 59.8 percent to 6,890, according to the study. Superintendent Robert Fulton said the state now allows districts to build for future growth – a departure from past policy that required districts use current population numbers.
The three-phase plan calls for building a new elementary school on a yet-to-be determined parcel west of Route 1.
"If we do that right at the gate, we could address capacity issues at other schools," said Brian Bassett, director of administrative services.
Phase 1 also calls for a new Shields Elementary School to be built in the open area behind the Lewes School and additions to Beacon and Mariner middle schools. Beacon would be expanded by 12 classrooms and Mariner by six.
Phase 2 of the plan calls for renovating Milton Elementary, whose staff and students would be relocated to the existing Shields Elementary during construction. In Phase 3, the district would build a new H.O. Brittingham on the current site and demolish the old building upon completion. A new Rehoboth Elementary would also be built and both existing buildings would be demolished. Lastly, the old Shields building, which would be used by students whose buildings were being rebuilt throughout the plan, would be torn down and the property could be used for a bus lot or athletic fields.
Bassett said the process could take about three years from the time a referendum is passed to occupancy of the buildings. Phases 2 and 3 could overlap; the earliest the project could be completed would be two years but that could be a push, he said.
A rough cost estimate for the project is $125 million, but that does not include land purchase for a new school, Bassett said.
With the report now in hand, the school board could kick planning back to the task force for improvement or the board could take the plan from there.
"This is the first of several conversations we're going to have on this," Fulton said.
Most school board members reserved comment on the plan until they had reviewed it.
Alternative to plan
Board member Noble Prettyman offered an alternative to the task force plan. Instead of building two new elementary schools less than a mile apart in Milton, he suggested using Milton Elementary School for the Sussex Consortium and building a new elementary on the H.O. Brittingham site with a section for pre-K to second grade and another for third to fifth grades.
Prettyman said it makes sense to move the Sussex Consortium, which serves students from across Sussex County, to a more central location. What doesn't make sense, he said, is building two new elementary schools less than a mile apart does not make sense.
The additions at the middle schools are needed immediately to ease crowding, Prettyman said, and he suggested doing the work now.
"To me it's a no brainer to do it," he said. "Otherwise, we're talking another year and a half with modulars in our back yard."
Both Mariner and Beacon have four modulars each housing two classrooms. Rehoboth Elementary has five, Shields has three and H.O.B and Milton each have one. The task force report states renting a modular costs about $128,000 for a 5-year lease.
Board to meet March 14
The school board will discuss the task force's recommendation at its next meeting 7 p.m. Thursday, March 14, in the cafeteria of Mariner Middle School.
DOE must agree to pay for 60 percent of the project before the school board can present residents with a referendum that must be approved, agreeing to pay the remaining 40 percent. DOE would pay 100 percent of construction or improvements for the Sussex Consortium.