Plans are in the very early stages, but Cape Henlopen School District officials say that a capital expense referendum will be necessary in the coming years to build additional schools.
At the Nov. 17 school board meeting, Cape Director of Operations Jason Hale said the district’s top priority is to complete the Frederick Thomas Middle School, currently under construction in Lewes and expected to open in the 2024-25 school year.
The district has grown from 3,844 students in 1994 to 6,336 in 2022, Hale said, and officials need to ensure enough space is available for the growing student population.
All available district land is in use, so a land purchase of up to 250 acres will be needed for a potential campus with multiple buildings on the same site, Hale said.
Cape Superintendent Bob Fulton said the district has used a population study completed by the University of Delaware in 2005, which has been very accurate in projecting growth for the district. The study predicts that 6,900 students will be enrolled in the district by 2030, Fulton said.
Not a lot of property is available in the region, Fulton said, and the land must be in a certain zone in a location approved by the state. Another difficulty will be finding a landowner who will sell, he said.
The district is actively looking for land with the help of a real estate agent, said Hale, who outlined the steps the district would take over several years to process the purchase and complete the project.
First, an architect would be engaged for basic planning, and the district would have to work with the state to determine if a proposed site is appropriate for a school. Once approved, a capital expense referendum would be held; the state would pay 60% of the cost, he said.
Additionally, Hale said, more than 1,800 students attend Cape High, so another site addition and renovation will be needed. The district is considering a possible relocation of the adjacent district office staff so more classrooms could be added in that space, he said.
The existing Frederick Thomas Building will be evaluated for its future use, Hale said, and an expansion of the Sussex Consortium Life Skills program will also be needed. Officials may also consider a natatorium swimming pool complex, he said.