Cape Henlopen School District voters resoundingly passed a referendum April 2 to build a new elementary school and add classrooms to the middle schools.
The referendum passed 3,587 to 2,410 with 60 percent of 5,997 people voting to approve new space for Cape students.
Superintendent Robert Fulton credited a dedicated group of parents and a supportive community for making it happen.
"Parents and the community really stuck together," he said.
Board Vice President Roni Posner said the district delivered a clear message that people listened to and understood.
"This is a great day for Cape. The community saw the need, and they supported it," she said.
In addition to the elementary school, the $31 million referendum will pay for six new classrooms at both Mariner and Beacon middle schools. The state has agreed to pay 60 percent of total construction costs, leaving residents about $11 million to pay.
Residents of an average home of $250,000, which is assessed at $21,546 will pay $59 more a year when the full increase goes into effect in 2017. Senior citizens 65 years old or older are eligible for 50 percent savings on their property taxes up to $500.
The total property tax rate increase is 27 cents, which breaks down to 10 cents per $100 of assessed property for capital improvement costs, and another 17 cents for operating expenses. The 10-cent increase would expire after 30 years; the 17 cents would be a permanent tax increase.
Now, the district can move forward with purchasing the 25-acre parcel on Route 24 for the 720-student elementary school. The board submitted nine parcels of land before narrowing it down to the site owned by J.G. Townsend Inc. The sales price is $1.75 million.
The design and construction of the school will follow, said Director of Administrative Services Brian Bassett.
He also thanked a strong group of parents and community members for their support. In particular, he said a couple of Facebook pages promoting the new school and referendum passage were key.
“We have some great parents,” he said.
Voters reported receiving recorded phone calls from the district asking them to vote as well as one that urged them to vote no for the referendum.
Voters in Milford and Seaford received similar calls from a group called First State Liberty. Referendums in both Milford and Seaford were defeated.
The group lists an address in Milton – the only polling place with more votes against the referendum than for. President Eric K Boye said his organization is not against fixing overcrowding at the schools.
Boye said the school could have considered other options such as renovations or using property the district already owns.
Speaking before the polls closed, Boye said the group realized the Cape referendum would be harder to defeat than those held in Milford and Seaford.
He said by challenging the referendum, other spending issues were raised, such salaries and stipends.
"This is not good stewardship with people's money," Boye said. "There's always value in fighting, even if it just brings attention to the issue."
Despite the effort against, enough voters like Susan Phillips of Lewes came out in support of the new school.
"I think there's enough people who get it," she said.