IRSD: High school compromise in major cap request

GEORGETOWN — It’s not what was initially sought.

However, Indian River School District officials believe they have elbow-room comfort in a large high school compromise that’s the key component in a major capital referendum targeting over-capacity spurred by enrollment growth.

IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele updated the board of education at its Oct. 22 meeting on where the proposal stands following discussions that included Fearn Clendaniel architects and the Delaware Department of Education.

The district is seeking to gain public referendum approval supporting the local share for a new Sussex Central High School and additional classrooms at Indian River High School and Selbyville Middle School. Based on information presented at a May meeting, the project carries an estimated $129.5 million overall price tag, which includes a $51.8 million local share in the 60/40 percent state/local funding ratio.

While the district was eyeing a 2,400-student high school the state balked but is agreeable to 2,200-student school.

“From discussions we had we weren’t going to get 2,400,” said Mr. Steele, noting the state wanted to build a 2,000-student high school. “We balked at that. We believe 2,200 will be a comfortable size for us to build.”

After an hour-long conference call, Mr. Steele said “we left the conversation thinking 2,200 is something we thought” the state would approve.

Unofficial as of the Oct. 22 board meeting — pending anticipated official state approval — the state has verbally agreed on Certificates of Necessity for a 2,200-student high school in the northern part of the district, eight additional classrooms at IRHS and new four classrooms for Selbyville Middle School, Mr. Steele said.

Indian River’s 2018 Sept. 30 count was 10,697 for fiscal year 2019. The Sept. 30, 2017 enrollment tally was 10,619.

Enrollment at Sussex Central High School in recent years has far exceeded the 1,500-student capacity. Many other schools in geographically Delaware’s largest public school district are near, at or over capacity.

A new high school is the linchpin in plans to shift approximately 1,000 middle schoolers – 750 from Millsboro Middle School and 250 from Georgetown Middle School – into the existing Sussex Central High School building. Millsboro Middle School would be renovated and converted for elementary-level purposes.

“An interesting twist is this is a rather large school that they (state) are not used to building. Most school districts now will go with a third school instead of one big one,” said Mr. Steele. “However, we explained how in trying to save taxpayer money on the local side of this, by building one major high school we are then able to use what we have to cover our capacity issues.”

Based on updated recalculations using two models, Mr. Steele said the enrollment prediction for Sussex Central High School is “somewhere between 1,900 and 2,000, probably about 1,950 in 2025 when the school would open. That would give us a 250-student buffer.”

Within the week, Mr. Steele expected official CN approval notification from the state. He added that other school districts addressing capacity issues apparently are not as fortunate as Indian River.

“Smyrna and some of the other districts did not get anything approved for capacity. That surprised me a little bit,” said Mr. Steele.

The district will begin to take its major capital pitch to the public and set a referendum.

“Between now and our next meeting we’ll look at our calendars and we will start looking at possible dates,” said Mr. Steele. “We’ll begin the process now of preparing our program to take out to the public. It’s going to be an interesting case because we will be able to show by doing this this way we’re going to be able to save the district residents a lot of money.”

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