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Indian River referendum passes

Shannon McNaught * Delaware
shannon.marvel@doverpost.com
Sussex Countian

The Indian River School District’s major capital improvement referendum passed on Thursday. Feb. 13.

“I cannot express the relief,” said Superintendent Mark Steele.

It was the district’s third attempt in about a year to garner funding to alleviate overcrowding, particularly at Sussex Central High School. A Feb. 2019 referendum drew about 7,000 voters and failed by over 650 votes, while a May 2019 attempt drew a little over 9,200 voters and failed by 65 votes.

The latest referendum drew over 12,000 voters, an overwhelming 7,536 of which approved.

“I want to offer to my heartfelt thanks to our public for supporting this important initiative,” Steele said. “We are grateful that IRSD residents recognized the need for additional classroom space and approved our plan to solve overcrowding problems with the construction of only one new school. The district worked diligently to put forth a proposal that would address enrollment growth while also providing the best value to taxpayers. With the approval of this proposal, we can provide the best possible learning environment to the students of the Indian River School District for years to come. On behalf of our students, staff and Board of Education, I want to thank everyone who supported this referendum. You truly have the best interests of our students at heart.”

The referendum’s success means the district will be able to temporarily raise property taxes in order to build a new Sussex Central High School. Millsboro Middle School will move into the existing high school and the existing Millsboro Middle School will be converted into an elementary school.

Right now, there are over 1,800 students at Sussex Central High School, which was designed for 1,500. The new Sussex Central High School will have a capacity of 2,200 students and is expected to be built within four or five years.

The new building will be approximately 309,799 square feet and built on property already owned by the district, next to the existing high school north of Millsboro.

“We’ll still have to purchase some trailers or rent them, there’s no way around it for the next four years,” Steele said. “Now we know there’s a light … at the end of the tunnel. The rest of it we can make sure we plan.”

Steele also indicated that if smaller additions are needed in the district in next few years, reserve funds will be able to be used.

“I want to retire without having to do anymore referendums,” he said.

When the new school is built and Millsboro Middle is available for use as an elementary school, attendance lines will be redrawn.

“With all the building that we’ve had going on, it’s going to be an easy capture. Some of the developments are so big, it may just be a road that surrounds a development that enables us to pull enough kids from one school to another school,” Steele said. “But we’ve got four years to work on that.”