Commentary: School proposal melds funding with flexible vo-tech spaces

By Warren Reid and Kevin Carson

Sussex Technical High School’s students are Sussex County’s future auto mechanics, police officers, nurses and carpenters. Our local employers deserve the best-prepared workers, and our students in turn deserve a top-level facility in which to learn and train for their future careers.

Warren Reid

But in recent years, students have had to zigzag around collapsing parking lots, learn under leaking roofs and be warmed and cooled by struggling, outdated HVAC systems. In this time, when the focus is on remote learning and technology, it’s easy to forget that the physical footprint of school buildings also needs to be strengthened for the long term.

The current school campus was cobbled together over decades, with some wings dating back more than 55 years. The parts and technical systems simply weren’t built to fit together, meaning taxpayers’ money is currently being wasted.

Kevin Carson

That’s why we have proposed an all-new, dynamic approach to building a replacement for the current Sussex Tech campus, focused on career-technical education.

The proposal we recently submitted to the Delaware Department of Education would be built in phases as funding becomes available, beginning with a career-technical education “pod” designed to meet the specific needs of our 16 program areas — the true core of a Sussex Tech education.

No longer would students have to do their hands-on work in modified traditional classrooms; the spaces would be custom-built for our programs in electronics, physical therapy, graphic design and more. Industry-standard equipment and computers would work on electrical systems designed for them, not 1960s wiring.

As future funding becomes available, spaces would be added for our academic subjects, athletics and support services — all designed and built intentionally, so the infrastructure and systems work together.

The need has long been known: Sussex Tech has pursued a new main building or campus in one form or another since 2013. Over the last few years, we have spent $14.3 million on maintenance and building improvements just to keep things running smoothly. That’s money not used in the classroom or auto shop to aid our students. Our maintenance staff does a great job keeping things running, but the building itself is aging faster than we can patch it.

While reviewing our proposal last year for a new high school, the Delaware Department of Education suggested we explore an incremental, phased approach, so we went back to the drawing board. What we have put forward is an innovative and efficient plan that will save money in the long run.

Our taxpayers, employers and students all need a world-class campus that will prepare world-class employees for their futures. Sussex County deserves nothing less.

Warren Reid is president of the Sussex County Vocational Technical School District board of education, and Dr. Kevin Carson is the district’s acting superintendent.