Favorite emerges in potential options pitched in IRSD major cap discussion

GEORGETOWN – Crunch time is approaching for the Indian River School District and board of education in addressing the district’s enrollment growing pains.

Superintendent Mark Steele at the April 23 school board meeting tossed around some potential remedies.

“I have looked at four options. We’ll throw these out,” said Mr. Steele. “I’m not saying these are something we have to select.”

Top priority among his four offerings is labeled option 2. That plan would be to build a large high school on the current Sussex Central High School campus, shift Millsboro Middle School into the existing SCHS building and renovate Millsboro Middle School to accommodate middle and elementary students.

“This is an option that could, and I say could, prove to be maybe a cheaper way to go,” said Mr. Steele in his presentation at Sussex Central High School.

Mark Steele

“A 1,500-student high school equates to 1,800 student middle school. So, if you put 1,000 students at the Sussex Central site, this school, you would have ample room, and ample room to do something else with this building,” said Mr. Steele. “The second thing is you could renovate Millsboro Middle School. We thought at one time it was going to be a large amount of money to renovate the high school to middle school. If fact, there isn’t. There are no standards from middle to high school.”

However, elementary/middle would require renovations. They would include altering bathroom facilities, sinks and water fountains.

Capacity-wise, approximately 900 elementary students could be housed at the current middle school site in Millsboro, Mr. Steele told the board.

“That will enable us to take students from east Long Neck area and southern part of Georgetown and put about 750 kids in that building. That alone, by building one large high school would enable us to take care of middle and elementary with renovations,” said Mr. Steele. “Keep in mind, you would have to take a look at our areas.”

Moving students would create space opportunities that would alleviate overcrowding/overcapacity issues in the northern part of the sprawling Indian River district, Mr. Steele said.

In addition, the district would still need to address space issues at Selbyville and at Indian River High School in option 2.

Other options pitched by Mr. Steele:

  • Build new elementary and new middle schools, renovate Sussex Central High School and several classrooms in Selbyville and IRHS. “That would be I think an expensive way to go,” said Steele;
  • Build a 1,200-student high school in Georgetown and shift students. “However, it doesn’t help your elementary and your middle (issues),” Mr. Steele said;
  • Build a Ninth Grade Academy. “Again, you’re still facing building a new elementary and a new middle (school),” Mr. Steele said.

“I really like option 2,” said board of education vice president Rodney Layfield. “One other additional thing I see is there is lot less disruption of the education process, if we were to move to forward with option 2, building a new high school, sharing the athletic fields.”

Mr. Layfield said he is seeking to gain the pulse of the community, noting “community members seem to be very interested in how we would work that out.”

“I would agree with Mr. Layfield, that option 2 seems to be the most simplistic and least expensive way to go,” said board member James Fritz. “I don’t think the public would go for building a third high school, to be honest with you.”

Mr. Fritz added Mr. Steele’s second option would be more palatable and a “pretty simply solution that would work.”

In option 2, Mr. Fritz said it would be wise for the district to make good use of available land at the Sussex Central site. He suggested creating multiple practice fields. There would only be one major stadium for both schools.

“One thing I will tell you, whatever option we choose we have to start with the high school option because there is a domino-effect involved,” said Mr. Steele. “In that domino effect, if we take care of something we may be able to utilize something that we already have, so that we don’t have the additional cost.”

“And I’m not sure it’s a good idea to go build multiple buildings right now,” said Mr. Steele.

Eleven of the district’s 16 schools are currently near, at or above 90-percent capacity with continued growth anticipated – especially with the district’s heavy Hispanic population in the northern Georgetown/Millsboro area.

Sussex Central High School, built at a 1,500-student capacity, is well over capacity.

At an April 11 special public meeting, Mr. Steele presented projections that revealed district-wide enrollment approaching 11,000 students next year, far ahead of the state’s previous projection, which was to reach 11,000 students in 2025.

“We’re already 130 students over capacity here (Sussex Central),” said Mr. Steele. “That is not going to get any better. It’s going to get worse. Numbers that I used were simply numbers that we currently have in our system for our secondary schools.”

Certificate of necessity discussion that could lead to a major capital referendum will resume Wednesday, May 9 at a second special board meeting, which again is open to the public. It will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Indian River High School in Dagsboro.

“I would venture to say there are probably people that have other ideas that we could look at,” Mr. Steele said.

The district must finalize and submit certificates of necessity (CNs) to the state by Aug. 31, 2018. Pending CN approval from the state, the district’s plan is to hold a major capital referendum in the winter/spring of 2019.

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

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