An additional $13 million in state funding will give Sussex Consortium everything district leaders wished for, and Cape Director of Capital Projects Brian Bassett could not be happier.
“The Consortium is our fastest-growing school, and autism rates are not slowing down,” he said. “Without this, on day 1 there wouldn’t be enough classrooms. We would’ve needed modular classrooms out back.”
In 2016, the state agreed to pay for the new school, roughly $22 million in construction and $1.8 million for 26 acres on Sweetbriar Road. Original plans called for a 67,000-square-foot building with 28 classrooms.
The extra $13 million will add 18 classrooms, including vocational rooms and another pre-K wing, a second gym and an indoor pool. At over 111,000 square feet, the school’s footprint will nearly double.
Cape received $3 million in August, with $10 million set for distribution in July 2019. Bassett said current funding will dry up in March, and officials are working to keep construction going.
Options to keep construction on track are slowing interior work, such as drywall and painting; progressing on schedule but moving focus to Rehoboth Elementary construction when funds are gone; or shifting funding from other projects.
Bassett said the district asked the state if $7 million earmarked for Shields Elementary construction could move to the Consortium in March. Funds could then be returned to Shields this summer.
“It’s a domino effect,” Bassett said. “Delaying construction at the Consortium will delay all school construction. Shifting funds would mean the Consortium can open in October rather than December, and Shields would still open on time.”
School features security, fitness and life-skills training
In keeping with recent school designs that incorporate Cape Region elements, the student drop-off overhang will resemble the Indian River Inlet bridge. It will also be illuminated blue for autism awareness.
A biometric reader at the drop-off area will notify staff to come escort students inside.
“Parents won’t have to leave the car,” Bassett said. “There will be security cameras everywhere. All doors will be access controlled, and we’ll have two-way communication systems in all classrooms.”
Classrooms will have two-way glass so parents and administrators can observe students without being a distraction, and every room will have a bathroom.
Noting the school’s largest population is also its youngest, Bassett said there will be two, eight-room pre-K wings on the first floor with a courtyard in between, leading to an enclosed rubber-surfaced playground.
Classrooms for older students will be away from younger students. Older students will have a separate playground and two-story gym with a walking trail, basketball court and exercise equipment.
A 600-foot apartment for life-skills training has a washer and dryer, full bedroom and kitchen. The Consortium will be the first Cape school with a swimming pool.
“We were the only special-needs school without a pool, and swimming is a life skill they need,” Bassett said.
The district is seeking partnerships with local businesses to open storefronts open to the public such as a laundromat, hair salon, coffee shop and produce market so students can practice being workers and consumers, Bassett said. A cafe next to the main entrance will be staffed by students and open to the public.
A 20-seat movie theater will provide vocational training and movie nights.
“Some autistic children are unable to go to the public movie theater,” Bassett said. “This may help them adjust so they’ll be able to go to Midway.”
Students need outdoor time and sunshine, Bassett said, so the school will have a rooftop classroom with high walls and fencing. A trail system will loop around the pond toward the trees, past exercise equipment, swings and flat areas for pop-up soccer games. An emergency call button will be added outside.
Currently located on Savannah Road, the Sussex Consortium is an option to all county students with an educational classification of autism. Open year-round, the school serves students age 3 to 21.
About 200 students will attend the new school, and about 100 more Consortium students will be located in classrooms throughout the elementary, middle and high schools.