Finishing touches applied to Sussex Consortium

School for special-needs students to open Sept. 16
September 6, 2020

Crews were busy the last week of August putting the finishing touches on the Sussex Consortium, which will welcome students the first day of school, Wednesday, Sept. 16.

Originally set to open March 16, the $44 million, 111,000-square-foot state-funded school for special-needs students is an option to all county school district students with an educational classification of autism. The school serves students ages 3 to 21.

In 2016, Delaware agreed to purchase 26 acres fronting Sweetbriar Road and pay costs to construct the Consortium; original plans called for a 67,000-square-foot building with 28 classrooms.

Construction began in May 2018, but the original timetable was set back after the state awarded additional funding in August 2018, allowing for an indoor pool, vocational rooms, 18 additional classrooms and a second gym.

Like all recent school designs that incorporate Cape Region elements, the student drop-off overhang resembles the Indian River Inlet bridge. At night, it is illuminated blue for autism awareness.

Students are divided by age, with older students upstairs. Classrooms have connecting bathrooms and two-way glass for observation, and heating and cooling are controlled individually in each room.

The school has two gyms; one is two-story with a walking trail, basketball court and exercise equipment for older students. 

The Consortium is the first Cape school with a swimming pool; it will be used for therapy and swimming lessons for Consortium students, Cape Director of Capital Projects Brian Bassett said. And the Special Olympics team, which previously had to train in other pools, will now have its own training location, Bassett said.

A 600-square-foot apartment for life skills training has a washer and dryer, full bedroom and kitchen. New to any Consortium building is a library, housed on the first floor.

A 25-seat theater can be used by staff during training and inservice days, and transform into a movie theater for kids at night. Principal Vivian Bush said contracts will soon be signed with businesses that will set up space in the school’s occupational wing, where students can practice life skills such as ordering and taking orders. 

A rooftop classroom with high walls overlooks a fenced trail system that loops around a pavilion and man-made pond toward the trees. All district playgrounds are still closed to the public due to COVID-19, but eventually the Sussex Consortium playground and trails will also be open to the public during non-school hours.

Roughly 200 students will attend the new school remotely or in person for the time being; about 100 more Consortium students are located in classrooms throughout district schools. 

The Consortium was most recently located in the Lewes School on Savannah Road. The Lewes School is currently undergoing renovations and will become Shields Elementary, and the current Shields Elementary will be demolished to make way for a new middle school.

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