Referendum on new school set April 2

Cape taxpayers must approve planned $31 M building
The new elementary school, shown as a yellow school house, would be located across from Beacon Middle School on Route 24. Current district lines, shown on this map, would be redrawn. ARTWORK BY CHRIS FOSTER
January 27, 2014

Cape taxpayers will head to the polls Wednesday, April 2, to decide the fate of a proposed new elementary school. The proposed $31 million project will cost an average taxpayer at least $39 more a year, officials say.

The date's been set, the presentation polished and now the Cape Henlopen school board and officials are ready to take their plan for a new elementary school to the public.

“It’s a wonderful problem we have because families are coming here, and we need to provide them a first-rate education,” said board Vice President Roni Posner at a Jan. 23 school board meeting.

The board unanimously approved a referendum on a new 720-student elementary school to be located on about 25 acres on Route 24, across from Beacon Middle School, with access also from Mulberry Knoll Road.

In early January, after months of deliberations and negotiations, the board decided on a parcel owned by J.G. Townsend Inc. The purchase price of the Townsend family land is $1.75 million and purchase is contingent on the referendum passing, said Superintendent Robert Fulton.

A population study completed by the University of Delaware shows district population growth concentrated along the Route 24 corridor. Board member Andy Lewis said if community sees the growth area, people will understand why the board chose the Route 24 location.

“When I saw that, I felt it’s pretty obvious where the school should be,” Lewis said.

The state will pay 60 percent of the construction costs, leaving Cape residents about $11 million to pay through property taxes. While most of the $11 million will cover construction costs, Oliver Gumbs, director of business operations, said an additional $2.3 million may be needed to pay for staff salaries.

Besides the new elementary school, the referendum asks taxpayers to approve six new classrooms at both Mariner and Beacon middle schools. Six new consortium classrooms are also approved at Beacon, but the state will pay entirely for those.

Originally, Cape officials asked for 10 consortium classrooms at the new elementary, but that request was denied.  “We’re working with legislators to still get that approved,” Fulton said.

Whether the elementary consortium classes are approved will not affect the proposed property tax increase because the state pays 100 percent for consortium improvements, Fulton said.

The district continues to work out a final cost for the tax increase including operating expenses for the new school, Fulton said, adding he expects a final decision in about a week.

During a presentation to the board, Gumbs estimated the total increase could be about 23 cents per $100 of assessed property starting in 2017, an increase of about 8 percent over the current tax rate of $2.97 per $100 of assessed property.

Assessed home value is typically lower than market value. The average assessed home value in the Cape district is about $30,000, Fulton said. Based on construction cost alone, he said, the increase would be about $39 a year for the average homeowner.

Meanwhile, school board and district officials are ready to let the community know about the new school plans.

“I’m telling everyone I see this is something we need,” said board President Spencer Brittingham. “We need to pass this referendum.”

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