The Lewes School has been a fixture on Savannah Road for nearly a century, and it will remain for at least a few decades more.
Representatives from Cape Henlopen School District presented a plan for the new Richard A. Shields Elementary at a June 19 meeting of the Lewes Planning Commission.
The school will be constructed off the back of the neighboring Lewes School, blending the historic 1921 brick school into the new design. The existing Shields is expected to be demolished by early 2022.
“Our goal for this project is to build a 21st century educational facility that can support the school’s needs for a K-5 elementary school while also respecting the original architecture of the original 1921 structure,” said Tim Skibicki, an architect for TetraTech.
The historic Lewes School will receive major upgrades, including air conditioning and new windows, but the critical features of the building will be retained, including the auditorium and gymnasium.
The wings on either side of the existing building will be demolished to make way for new two-story classroom wings to be built off the back and around the existing gymnasium.
A cafeteria will be constructed in the new section along Sussex Drive.
“If the school district were to build a new school on this site, the way the funding works with the Department of Education, they wouldn’t be able to afford a separate gymnasium, separate auditorium and separate cafeteria,” Skibicki said. “It’s a really unique project here in the ability to have those three distinct features available to the school and community.”
The traffic plan is to separate buses from staff and parent drop-off and pickup. Buses will use Sussex Drive on the western side of the school, while most other traffic will use a driveway off Savannah Road on the eastern side of the school facing Beebe Healthcare.
The site plan shows 132 parking spaces for employees, staff and visitors. Bassett said the off-street parking should free up parking along Savannah Road.
The Lewes School is currently home to the Sussex Consortium. District Director of Capital Projects Brian Bassett said once the new Sussex Consortium building is complete on Sweetbriar Road, students and staff will be moved out of Lewes. Then work can begin on asbestos abatement and demolition.
Bassett said the goal is to begin demolition in the fall; construction of the new school should commence in spring 2020. The targeted opening is fall 2021, but the district may move students mid-year if construction is delayed.
The existing Shields Elementary was built in 1966 with renovations and additions in 1987, 1994 and 2007. It will be demolished to make way for the school district’s third middle school, which was approved by referendum in 2018.
Among the concerns raised at the planning commission meeting was traffic generated by an elementary school and middle school within a block of each other.
Bassett said it would be no different, and possibly less traffic, than what’s currently happening with Shields and Sussex Consortium. When Love Creek Elementary opened in 2017, he said, the Shields population dropped from about 800 students down to about 550. The new school will handle about 650 students when full.
“For once, we want to be built for growth instead of always struggling to catch up,” Bassett said.
Sussex Consortium only has about 300 students, but it rivals Cape Henlopen High School when it comes to the number of staff. It also has far more buses – 27 –than a typical elementary or middle school, he said, because students come from all over the county.
Bassett said the new middle school will be smaller than Shields, with 500 students when full.
Bassett said he’s excited to bring the new school to the Lewes community.
“You all are blessed to have that beautiful building that every town would love to have, and the fact that the community realized that and kept it – this is going to be an amazing site to drive by,” Bassett said.