New Sussex Central High School, building additions in major cap proposal

DAGSBORO — Several months in the works, Indian River School District’s board of education has mapped out a definitive forward path to address overcrowding growing pains and capacity issues at the majority of its 16 schools.

By an 8-0-1 vote May 21, the school board opted for an Option 2 proposal recommended by IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele. It calls for a new Sussex Central School and additions to Selbyville Middle School and Indian River High School.

Option 2 would encompass converting current Sussex Central High School into a middle school for upward of 1,000 students — well below the building’s 1,500-student capacity — and utilizing the Millsboro Middle School building for elementary-level instruction.

“My recommendation, superintendent-wise, I would look at Option 2. I think it’s the cheaper. It utilizes buildings that we have and still gives us room for growth,” said Mr. Steele. “I think we can look at the additions at Selbyville and IRHS. We can do some innovative thinking and look at technology in those particular areas.”

The district is weighing its enrollment request for the new high school. A 2,400-student capacity for the new Sussex Central High School is considered, opposed to 2,200.

IRSD board member Gerald Peden said building a 2,200-student school with SCHS’s projected enrollment in 2024 to be near capacity defined under the district’s 90-percent benchmark simply makes no sense.

“That doesn’t make sense to me. By the time it’s finished we’re already at capacity,” said Mr. Peden. “Is there a state formula that the state mandates?”

“There is not,” said Mr. Steele. “In this case we would go with the larger size. We think we should go for the 2,400 to be on the safe side. That will be up to the committee at the state level, but I believe building a school where you’re already going to be over 90-percent capacity, I do believe they will go up to the next size; 2,400 possibly is as high as we could go.”

Option 2, among four or five examined by the board, carries an estimated $129.5 million overall price tag. The local taxpayer burden would be approximately $51.8 million in the 60/40 percent state/local funding ratio.

Based on 1974 assessed values, the first-year tax increase on a property assessed at $20,000 would be about $15.60 for the Option 2 plan.

According to district data, 11 of the district’s 16 schools are currently near, at or above 90-percent capacity. Continued growth is anticipated — particularly in the district’s heavy Hispanic population in the northern area.

Projections have the district enrollment approaching 12,000 by 2020.

Board approval is one checkmark on the checklist. The district will prepare and submit its Certificate of Necessity request to the state. Finalized certificates of necessity must be submitted by Aug. 31.

Subsequent state approval of the CN — all or some of the items — is anticipated in the fall and would would lead to a major capital referendum, probably in the winter of 2018-19.

Meanwhile, there are some loose ends.

One involves renovations needed to convert the middle school to elementary. This would entail converting existing restroom facilities and possibly adding bathrooms in classrooms designated for kindergarten.

Wayde Clendaniel, of Fearn Clendaniel Architects, recently toured the middle school with Joe Booth, IRSD’s supervisor of building and grounds.

“We looked at two things. One, we looked at the shop area to see if we could get more classrooms in there,” said Mr. Clendaniel. “And then we looked at the existing bathrooms. The existing bathrooms I think are in pretty good shape, but I need to check a few things … before I say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”

“The only other thing with the bathrooms is that you are changing from a middle school to an elementary school,” said Mr. Clendaniel. “So, you need to figure out … how you are going to handle your kindergarten classrooms. Are you putting in an extra bathroom in those classrooms? What classrooms do you want to designate so that it is close to where an existing bathroom is, so you’re not tearing up all of the floors? We still need to look at that.”

School board member Jim Fritz raised a question of whether or not such renovations would fall under the major capital improvement umbrella, rather than minor cap, if they are designed to relieve overcrowding and capacity issues.

“If it’s over the $750,000 threshold, it could become a major capital expense,” said Mr. Steele.

In addition, Mr. Steele said the district must stay on top of action in the state legislature regarding possible legislation regarding school safety.

“I think we would need to know that before we would begin anything with our minor cap monies, to secure some of our entrance areas a little better than what they are,” said Mr. Steele.

Eight board members sided with board member Rodney Layfield’s motion for Option 2.

School board member Dr. Donald Hattier abstained from the vote. He said he was in Nashville attending his daughter’s graduation when this proposal was discussed and wasn’t fully prepared to vote.

“I had not finalized my opinion and did not have the sheets needed to make a good decision. I abstained due to my lack of information. This does not reflect on the district nor its preparation. They had the meetings. I just wasn’t there,” said Dr. Hattier, adding that we will “have to support it, because we need the space.”

  1. Scott Collins arrived late and was not present at the time the vote was taken.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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