The site plan for Cape Henlopen School District’s third middle school has been approved by Lewes Mayor and City Council.
The plan for a three-story school and athletic fields on a sprawling campus received unanimous support June 14, as council members approved the plan with 14 conditions. The campus will incorporate the new Shields Elementary School that is already under construction in the former Lewes School on Savannah Road.
“I think it’s not only going to be very beneficial to elementary and middle school students, but to our community as a whole,” said Councilman Khalil Saliba. “It’s right in the heart of Lewes. We’re going get a lot of benefit from having that there, whether walking trails, the running track, or sports fields. It’s a step forward for the community as a whole.”
Brian Bassett, district director of capital projects, said construction on the new middle school is planned to begin in April 2022, after the new Shields Elementary School is completed across the street. Construction is expected to last two years, with the school opening in fall 2024. When complete, the middle school will be smaller than the existing elementary school, which will be demolished as part of the project.
The new middle school is designed to fit harmoniously with the new Shields, creating a campus that stretches from Savannah Road to DuPont Avenue. Due to space constraints, baseball and softball diamonds and a multipurpose field will be located behind Shields, with a cinder track and additional field even farther back behind the Fred Thomas Building. That facility is currently being used as an annex for the district office as well as a site for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Walking paths will connect the entire campus.
The campus was designed to limit traffic on Savannah Road and Sussex Drive. Parents and visitors to the new Shields Elementary will enter directly from Savannah Road, using a parking lot on the Beebe Healthcare side of the building. For Lewes Middle School, parents and visitors will park on the Route 1/western side of the building, entering off Sussex Drive. There is a long looped driveway on the north side of the building to accommodate all cars during parent pickup.
Buses will enter each school from Sussex Drive; however, the schools’ starting times will be staggered to limit bus traffic on the sites and adjacent streets.
For after-school activities, architect Bryan Williams says there should be enough parking on the two school sites to accommodate all the vehicles.
As part of the conditions for approval, the city will consider a no-parking zone on Sussex Drive. The builder is also required to ensure safety for a crosswalk across Sussex Drive.
To limit impact on neighbors, no lighting will be allowed on the athletic fields, and only low-height lighting is permitted on the walking paths.
The plan presented to council showed that 218 trees are to be added. The city made that a minimum requirement as part of approval, encouraging the school district to use native species.
During a public hearing June 7, many nearby residents questioned the stormwater plan for both Shields and the new middle school as well as the aesthetics surrounding the stormwater facilities. Residents were specifically concerned about dry ponds planned for either side of the track behind the Fred Thomas Building off DuPont Avenue. Mayor Ted Becker said there is no stormwater management on the site today, and the district’s plan should ensure no water ends up on neighboring property.
Conditions for approval
- Potential installation of a fence behind the athletic fields adjacent to residences
- No lighting of athletic fields
- Provide low-height, solar-powered lighting around walking paths
- Consideration of different windows/color and a cornice on the building to promote a more historic/residential aesthetic
- No new outfall into Blockhouse Pond and identify locations of existing outfalls
- Consider plantings within stormwater management facilities
- Ensure safety for crosswalk on Sussex Drive
- Provide storage for equipment at the Fred Thomas Building site
- A minimum of 218 trees shall be planted on the site – native species encouraged
- Exterior bathroom access at Fred Thomas Building and elementary school
- Mayor and city council consider no-parking zone along Sussex Drive
- If events cause detrimental use of Sussex Drive, city manager and/or mayor should require events be moved to another location
- Remove fence near Blockhouse Pond
- Work with city engineer regarding work/improvements to Sussex Drive.