Enrollment growth fuels expansions needs

The Cape Henlopen School District’s third referendum in four years is scheduled for March 20, and administrators are eager to help residents understand their needs.

“We want you to vote, and we want you to vote informed,” said CHSD Superintendent Robert Fulton.

He and CHSD Director of Capital Projects Brian Bassett hosted the first of four community meetings on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at Rehoboth Elementary School, and another on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at Cape Henlopen High School. Community meetings will also be held on March 5 at Milton Elementary School and March 15 at Love Creek Elementary School, both at 6:30 p.m.

Final step of the plan

The CHSD has had one building or another under construction for years, attempting to accomplish a long-range facility plan.

“In a perfect world, we would have all our projects finished before starting a new one, but our enrollment growth doesn’t allow us that luxury,” said CHSD Director of Capital Projects Brian Bassett.

Expansions at Beacon and Mariner Middle Schools were completed in 2015, the new Love Creek Elementary School was finished in fall 2017 and the new H.O. Brittingham Elementary School is scheduled to open in fall of this year. A successful 2016 referendum will allow for new Sussex Consortium and Rehoboth Elementary School facilities, scheduled to open in fall 2019, and a new Shields Elementary School and remodeled Milton Elementary School scheduled to open in fall 2021.

Now, the district is hoping to complete the long-range facility plan by tackling capacity issues in secondary schools. At almost 60 percent, student enrollment in the CHSD between 2005 and 2030 has a higher predicted growth rate than any other district in Sussex County.

With the referendum, CHSD officials are proposing an expansion to Cape Henlopen High School and a new middle school, which would provide space for the predicted student enrollment growth through 2030. The projects would cost $55,578,900, with $34,197,700 contributed by the State of Delaware if the district is able to raise $21,381,200 via referendum.

The CHSD was the only district granted a major capital request certificate of necessity by the state this year.

“The state looked at our enrollment and realized we needed this,” said Bassett.

If the referendum doesn’t pass, the CHSD forfeits the state funding and must reapply, again facing off with the needs of other districts and the availability of state funds.

If March’s referendum does pass, 20 cents per $100 of assessed property value would be added to district property owners’ taxes. District officials estimate the average property owners’ annual tax bill would go up by about $35 by July 2022.

Future scenarios

Without referendum funding, the district would be forced to turn to modular classrooms at Cape Henlopen High School and both Beacon and Mariner Middle School. According to district officials, a five year lease for a two-classroom modular building would cost about $130,000, and they would need about 17 of them.

In a best-case scenario, should the referendum pass, the high school expansion would open in fall of 2021 and the middle school in fall of 2023 at the earliest.

“What we don’t want is for voters to get complacent,” said Superintendent Fulton. “The last two referendums went well, but we can’t have them stay home because they don’t think their vote counts.”

The referendum will take place on Tuesday, March 20. Polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Cape Henlopen High School, Mariner Middle School and Rehoboth Elementary School.

A link to senior school property tax credit information can be found at capehenlopenschools.com.