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Cape Henlopen referendum seeks funds for school buildings

Aiming to stay ahead of steady enrollment growth projected for the next decade, the Cape Henlopen School District is asking residents to approve a phased-in tax hike to pay for construction of two new elementary schools and renovations to two others.

Polls will be open from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 23, at Cape Henlopen High School, Mariner Middle School and Rehoboth Elementary School.

The $121 million plan would replace Rehoboth Elementary and H.O. Brittingham Elementary with new buildings, and renovate Milton Elementary and the current Lewes School building, which would become the new home of Shields Elementary. The new schools would share the design of the district’s new Love Creek Elementary, now under construction. Both the new and renovated buildings would be designed to accommodate 720 students. The buildings being replaced or renovated are from 50 to 95 years old.

Because the state picks up 60 percent of the construction costs, the district’s share is projected at $48.4 million. For the average home in the district, one with an assessed value of $22,509, taxes would increase gradually, by $6.75 for 2016-17, then by $15.76, $20.26, and finally $31.51 in the 2019-20 school year, for a total increase of $74.28.

“We’ve got about 5,200 students now, and we’re growing by about 100 students a year,” Superintendent Robert Fulton says. “If we don’t do something now, we’ll be back to using modular classrooms,” which shouldn’t be needed after Love Creek opens in the fall of 2017.

If approved by district residents, the construction would complete a 20-year facilities plan approved in 1999 that started with construction of Mariner and Beacon middle schools and was followed by construction of the new Cape Henlopen High School.

The first two phases were completed on time and under budget, said Brian Bassett, the district’s director of administrative services.

The proposed construction schedule begins with the new schools, with Brittingham to open in the fall of 2018 and Rehoboth the following year. Both schools would be built on the current school sites, and current students would remain in the old buildings until the new schools are ready.

The two renovation projects would begin in the fall of 2019 and would be completed by January 2021. Shields students would remain in their current building while the Lewes School is renovated. Milton students would attend classes in the old Brittingham building while renovations to their school are in progress.

The old Brittingham and Rehoboth buildings will eventually be demolished. Funds for demolition, as well as for drainage system improvements at the Rehoboth site, are included in the referendum budget, Fulton said.

Fulton said that he and Bassett have been making the rounds of school and community groups to explain the referendum. “There hasn’t been much negativity,” he said. “We feel the amount of our ask is reasonable.”

“There’s usually concern at the beginning of the meeting when we say it’s a $121 million proposal, but when we tell them that the increase in taxes will peak at $74 a year for an average home in our area, and that it’s a gradual increase,” Bassett said, “most people realize that’s a lot of bang for their buck.”
For more information, go to and click on the referendum link.

Larry Nagengast, a contributor to Delaware First Media since 2011, has been writing and editing news stories in Delaware for more than five decades.
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