Sussex Tech will continue its pursuit to build a new school

Sussex Tech High School (Sussex Technical School District)

Sussex Tech is continuing a pursuit to build a new school after the State did not approve funding for the project, which they say will save taxpayers millions of dollars.

“We remain very concerned about the condition of the building and the campus. Making repairs as problems develop is like slapping a Band-Aid on a severely bleeding wound,” said Superintendent Stephen Guthrie. “We will apply again next year to try to meet our obligation to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, as building a replacement school will save at least $24 million over renovation.

Maintenance problems are mounting at Sussex Tech, the countywide vocational-technical school district, according to district officials.

Over the last several years, Sussex Tech has spent $14 million on maintenance and improvements, including roof repairs, renovations of technical areas, security upgrades, and an overhaul to one of multiple HVAC systems.

“We will continue to serve our 1,250 high school students and 2,800 adult education students with a high-quality education,” Guthrie added. “However, that will become more difficult as years go by without a replacement school. Our Sussex County students deserve the same quality educational experience as enjoyed by Kent and New Castle students.”

Over the summer, facing a washout in a much-used parking lot, the district spent $70,000 to replace 170 feet of collapsed decades-old terra-cotta stormwater pipe. It recently contracted with an engineering firm to begin the process of replacing the failing drainage system at the stadium and to evaluate piping underneath multiple parking lots to avoid similar collapses.

“We are wasting money on critical repairs that could be spent on new HVAC or carpentry tools, updated computer equipment, or additional teachers. We can’t keep kicking the can down the road and throwing good money after bad,” Guthrie said. “A building that fails to meet modern standards in many categories is a building that hampers and hurts the education of our students.”

The district had applied to the Delaware Department of Education for a certificate of necessity, the first step in obtaining state support and funding for the building project, for a $150.5 million replacement school.

Sussex Tech learned that it was not selected to move forward in the process this year because other schools had ranked higher using the state’s priority criteria, which emphasizes school capacity over safety concerns and maintenance costs.

“Sussex Tech students deserve a school that trains and educates them for their futures, and Sussex County employers deserve students who are learning their craft not distracted by leaking roofs, broken heating systems, or holes in the parking lot,” said Board President Warren Reid. “This is disappointing, but we remain optimistic that Sussex County recognizes the value of a high-quality career-technical education and will continue to support this project.”

A review by respected architectural and engineering firm ABHA/BSA+A also identified a need for improved traffic circulation on campus to reduce twice-daily backups on U.S. 9; the importance of security upgrades that would come with a replacement school; and the need for improved, upgraded and flexible space for the school’s 17 career-technical areas.

A district feasibility study outlined three options, with a replacement school being the cheapest choice at $150.5 million. Renovation options would have cost at least $177.6 million, largely due to the need to create temporary career-technical classrooms and labs suitable for industry-standard equipment while work was going on, as well as making upgrades to existing infrastructure.

The replacement school would have cost the average Sussex County homeowner just about $3.18 per month at the peak of the tax increase.