IRSD making plans for modular classrooms at three schools

This photo includes proposed locations of modular classrooms at Sussex Central High School in Georgetown. Submitted photo

DAGSBORO — With fingers crossed for referendum success May 7, Indian River School District officials are eyeing modular classroom units at three school sites as temporary relief for major overcrowding.

IRSD’s board of education March 25 voted 9-0 to pursue six portable units equating to a dozen classrooms — eight at Sussex Central High School, and two each at North Georgetown Elementary School and Selbyville Middle School.

Cost for each unit (two classrooms) for a mandated 60-month lease is $139,530, for a total five-year rental of approximately $837,000, or about $167,000 per year. Leases must be for five years, Mr. Steele said.

“It is going to be a pretty substantial cost as we go through these things, which is why we have the second referendum coming up. It is going to be absolutely critical that we do everything possible to show the community the need that we have,” said IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele. “However, we need to go ahead and bring these folks in, take measurements and see where the location would be.”

Board action March 25 comes about six weeks from a second major capital referendum attempt requesting voter approval for $63.4 million in the local share of a $158.5 million project for the construction of a new Sussex Central High School, an eight-classroom addition at Indian River High School and a four-classroom addition at Selbyville Middle School.

That major capital request and a separate current expense tax increase, which called for a 9-cent property tax hike for approximately $1.5 million in operating costs for a high school and elementary school, were both defeated in the Feb. 5 referendum.

The district says additional classroom space is desperately needed to address a substantial increase in the district’s total enrollment during the past eight years. IRSD’s current enrollment as of the Sept. 30 count was is 10,697 students in grades PreK-12 and has since increased. This represents an increase of 1,826 students since 2011.

Enrollment growth is projected to continue during the next six years and reach 12,473 students by 2024.

Overcrowding problem is especially severe at Sussex Central High School, as nearly 1,700 students are currently housed in a building designed for 1,500. By 2024, the school’s enrollment will be more than 1,900, according to district projections.

Besides a lack of classroom space, common areas such as the cafeteria, auditorium and hallways are no longer large enough to accommodate the student population. The school could eventually be forced to add more lunch periods, which will result in some students eating lunch earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon.

Currently, a number of teachers at SCHS do not have classrooms and must move from room to room while carrying their possessions on a cart.

Mr. Steele said 23 teachers at Sussex Central instruct using carts. “Districtwide, we’re about 34 to 35 carts. Next year we’ll hit up around 38 or 40,” Mr. Steele said.

Mr. Steele said eight classrooms for Sussex Central are going to be needed for two years. “At the end of two years we are going to need to bring in another eight classrooms, another four units,” said Mr. Steele.

That would increase the overall lease/rental cost to approximately $1.4 million, Mr. Steele said.

“Another important aspect is portable classrooms may increase classrooms space, but the public also needs to understand that it doesn’t increase cafeteria space, or gymnasium space,” said school board member James Fritz. “Cafeterias are already overcrowded in a lot of the schools, particularly Sussex Central.”

Funding for modular must come from district operational funds – current expense. “We get no extra funding from the state to help us support these classrooms,” Mr. Steele said.

“Would we need to dip into reserves that we currently have?” asked IRSD board member Gerald Peden.

“Quite possibly,” Mr. Steele said. “It is going to depend on enrollment increases, depend cost of other items we have going on.”

The IRSD is dealing with Willscot, a Maryland-based company for modular. Each unit measures 64 feet by 24 feet, accommodating two classrooms. The district will incur an additional $10,000 cost for wiring, sidewalks, ramps, utilities, public address system, phone, data, Mr. Steele said.

Mr. Steele said the possibility of a permanent pole building-type structure to house classrooms has been ruled out through consultation with Ken Fearn of Fearn Clendaniel Architects and the Laurel School District, which has a similar building that is not used for classrooms but more for a shop area for CTE programs.

The cost for a pole building to meet state code “would cost somewhere in neighborhood of $1.5 million to $2 million,” Mr. Steele said.
“What we would have to go through would be very similar to the same exact thing as if we built a brick building, same approvals, etc.”

With the construction of a new Sussex Central High School, the district plans to renovate and repurpose two existing school buildings. Millsboro Middle School would move into the existing Sussex Central High School building, allowing the existing Millsboro Middle School to be converted into an elementary school.

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