Cape school district to explore land purchase options

Rising enrollment drives need for additional facilities for students, staff
November 30, 2021

With enrollment numbers continuing to grow in the Cape district, long-range planning is necessary to prepare for future generations of students, said Cape Director of Capital Projects Brian Bassett at the Nov. 18 school board meeting.

Bassett said he had hoped this conversation could wait a few years, but the planning process takes one to two years to get started, and time is of the essence. 

Completing construction at Lewes Elementary and beginning the middle school project in Lewes are the top priorities, Bassett said. Students are expected to move into Lewes Elementary over spring break, he said.

Possible future needs include a natatorium, additions and renovations at Cape High and Sussex Consortium, land purchase for a campus, and a new district office, Bassett said.

Bassett recommended purchasing 150 to 200 acres to create a campus with several schools, but if that isn’t possible, the district would have to buy smaller land parcels. Bassett showed examples in the Appoquinimink School District, where Fairview Campus is organized around a central green and surrounded by elementary, middle and high schools. 

A natatorium, or indoor swimming pool facility, continues to generate interest but would be 100 percent locally funded, with no state assistance, Bassett said. Because it would be locally funded, the district wouldn’t have to pay state prevailing wage, which would save millions of dollars, he said. In 2006, the cost for a pool was estimated at $8 million.

Even with the recent addition, Cape High is full today, Bassett said, and utilities, geothermal and existing structures take up most of the land. To maximize space, Bassett said stadium bleachers could be raised and expanded to the ends of the field so rooms for lockers, storage and other needs could be added underneath.

Land where the district office and bus barn sit could be converted for learning spaces, parking or other needs, Bassett said. The 7,500-square-foot district office does not currently hold all staff and is well under the projected 22,000-30,000-square-foot facility needed to house current and future staff, he said.

The Life Skills Building is still at the Fred Thomas Building, but needs to be constructed at its main campus, Sussex Consortium. The Consortium is already full, and autism rates are going up, Bassett said, so more classrooms will be needed. 

Bassett said a three-story district office could be built on the site of the Fred Thomas Building, but stormwater management and parking might be concerns. 

Board members Bill Collick and Janet Maull-Martin, who said she attended elementary school in the building known then as Dupont Avenue School, both said they wanted the building to be a school where learning takes place. Bassett said he would ask the architect if some kind of school could be constructed there.

Board member Jessica Tyndall said she knew it might be a lofty idea, but suggested the district speak with builders who continue to sell houses at the rate they do, which is why more schools are needed.

Bassett said the fact that builders don’t have to contribute to a fund when they build homes in Sussex County is very frustrating, because those same builders also work in Kent and New Castle counties, where they do have to pay a fee. 

New Castle County has had a school impact fee since 1999 and Kent County since 2006; such a fee in Sussex County could help fund school capital projects. Bassett said the implementation of a fee in Sussex County would be a legislative act.

The board gave Bassett approval to move forward with a state Preliminary Land Use Service review of possible land parcels and the use of a real estate agent to assist with the project. Bassett will also request bids from architectural firms to assist with logistics, and those bids will be presented to the board for approval at a later date.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter