Sussex Tech study shows new $150 million high school would be cheaper than renovation

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The Sussex Technical School District a proposing a new $150.5 million high school building in Georgetown.

A district building feasibility project outlined three options for improvements: renovating only the oldest parts of the complex and continuing patchwork repairs to the newer wings, at a cost of $190.2 million; renovating the entire school complex for $177.6 million; or building an entirely new school, at a cost of $150.5 million.

The Sussex Technical Board of Education earlier this month endorsed the third option, citing the lower cost.

“Sussex County taxpayers trust us to be good stewards of their money, and building a new school saves taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Over the last year, under new leadership, we have put a renewed emphasis on our core career-technical programs to better serve Sussex County. We have reduced spending, increased transparency, and brought a new focus to preparing our students for their future,” saidDistrict Superintendent Stephen Guthrie.“This proposal is the next step in our obligation to meet the needs of our students and our county, and have a school of which Sussex County can be proud.”

In a lengthy release outlining the options, the district noted that the school is home to over 1,200 high school students and 2,800 adult education students.

The main high school building was constructed in stages, with wings being added on each decade. The oldest wing was built 59 years ago. Othersections were built in 1964, 1970, 1995, 2000 and 2008. The school started out as a part-time technical high school.

Sussex Tech has spent about $14 million over the last few years on maintenance and improvements alone – repairs to roofs, renovations of student career-technical areas, security installations, and an HVAC overhaul, among other items, the release stated.

Unlike other vo-tech schools, the campus is also home to students in the district’s adult education programs, serving 2,800 students each year. Adults complete their high school diplomas or complete apprenticeship training programs in fields like welding, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, and automotive technologies.

A review by architectural consultant ABHA/BSA+A also sees a need to deal with traffic issues around the campus on Route 9 and security upgrades.

Sussex Tech is supported by property taxes from all county taxpayers, which spreads the impact across more people than in a traditional district.

Unlike other school districts, taxpayers will not vote on a new high school building. The decision to fund the project is up to the Delaware General Assembly under the governance system that includes appointed school board members.

The unique status of vo-tech districts has been criticized in some quarters over the years. In Sussex County, taxpayers rejected a recent bond issue in the Indian River School District aimed at reducing overcrowding in one district.

Sussex Vo-Tech has also struggled with management and governance issues that included a land deal with a prominent businessman. A new administration was brought in following the news.

Transactions between Sussex Tech and Laurel businessman back in the news

The building project is estimated to cost the average homeowner about $38.13at its peak in the third year, with costs decreasing every year after that. At its height, that’s $3.18 per month, the district estimated.

The district will be applying for a certificate of necessity with the Delaware Department of Education for this fall’s review period, the first step in receiving state budget support.

Constructing a new high building would not require the purchase of additional land since the district would take advantage of wooded areas on the current campus footprint.

The current school has a footprint of about 294,000 square feet, including the main building and outbuildings. The new building would have about 313,000 square feet. The building would have capacity for 1,600 students to accommodate intense student interest and growth.

Last fall saw 802 Sussex County 8th-graders apply for about 280 slots, the largest application class in history. The high school currently has about 1,250 enrolled students, and also serves about 2,800 adult education students at night.

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