State wrong to deny district request

December 22, 2023

A front-page story in the Dec. 15 edition of the Cape Gazette highlighted plans for two large mixed-use projects on Route 9, west of Lewes. Combined, those projects would add 1,485 single-family homes and 1,300 multifamily residential units. Those proposed developments are proof the building boom in the Cape Henlopen School District is not slowing. 

So it was a bit of a surprise to learn the state denied requests from the school district to expand Cape Henlopen High School and purchase a large parcel off Cedar Grove Road to manage growth. 

The district is struggling to keep up with the population explosion, as evidenced by a front-page story in the Dec. 19 edition, detailing the board’s realignment of elementary school enrollment areas due to overcrowding at Love Creek Elementary. In October, the school board set new enrollment areas ahead of the opening of the new Frederick Thomas Middle School in Lewes, the district’s third, which was built due to overcrowding at Beacon and Mariner middle schools. 

District enrollment has risen from 3,844 students in 1994 to 6,587 in 2023. At Cape High alone, the student population grew by 205 over the past two years. 

The high school was built in 2009 and expanded to accommodate 400 more students in 2021. The latest request to the state was to purchase land to move the district office, then expand the high school with a two-story, 24-classroom addition. 

But in the end, the state will only allow the district to purchase a smaller piece of the Cedar Grove parcel, which, along with any building construction, will have to be 100% locally funded. 

With a proven need for more space now and certainly in the future, it seems short-sighted for the state to deny the purchase of the larger parcel, which would’ve included state funds. While the district will likely make do with what it has, it will need more land for schools and facilities in the near future. In this case, the state made a mistake. 

Sussex County does have a notable opportunity to soften the blow by implementing a school impact fee on all new residential projects. Passed by the General Assembly last session, the measure to help all Sussex County schools now sits on the desks of the five council members for action. 

  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

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