Sussex Central High School expanding to address overcrowding

A new high school will ease congestion in the hallways and classrooms and add a larger gym, more classrooms, and a state-of-the-art black box theater.

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school hallway

Students crowd the jam-packed hallway in between classes at Sussex Central High School. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

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When the bell rang at 1:03 p.m. on a recent school day at Sussex Central High, students flooded the hallway to get their next class. Teachers also quickly navigated through the throngs, pushing carts stacked high with books, papers, coffee cups, and laptops. It was a scene humorously described as a lively ‘mob’ by one teacher.

Over the past several years, Southern Delaware has seen significant changes due to a growing population. Naturally, that’s led to overcrowding at Sussex Central. The student body of more than 2,000 far exceeds the school building’s capacity.

School building
The front entrance of the current Sussex Central High School, soon to be transformed into Millsboro Middle School, is poised to address the area’s growing student population and educational needs.(Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

Nearly a decade ago, the school added trailers to the back of the property to provide extra classroom space. “We just had the growth in the communities in the west side of [Route] 113 and in the east side of [Route] 113,” explained assistant principal Karen Oliphant. “Just the expansion in general of people moving from the cities to this area.”

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Principal Judith Brittingham said with teachers sharing classrooms, those who aren’t teaching are forced to use hallways or stairwells as makeshift planning areas.

Construction at the school building
Construction is underway for the new three-story Sussex Central High School, which will connect to the left side of the current building.
(Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

“The current Sussex Central building, we have outgrown six or seven years ago as far as capacity,” Brittingham said. “We just have many challenges in terms of the growth and the space in this building… At this point, we are just totally maxed out on space.”

Unveiling a new high school for growing needs

“As our population has grown, so has our diversity,” Brittingham said. Latino students comprise the largest portion of the student population, with growing numbers of Vietnamese, Turkish, and Haitian Creole students.

In 2022, work started on a major expansion connected to the current building. The existing portion of the school will eventually house middle school students from Millsboro.

Construction at the school building
Construction is underway for the new three-story Sussex Central High School, which will connect to the left side of the current building.
(Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

“The new part is going to be the high school, all Sussex Central High School,” Brittingham said. “It’s actually going to be two large schools on one campus. They’re connected so we can share the auditorium.”

The expansion will feature widened halls, a new gym, and a cafeteria that’s double the size of the current space. There are also plans for additional parking, double the number of classrooms, more common areas and lounges, and a state-of-the-art black box theater for the school’s performing arts program. Additionally, the new building will include a community store where students can sell their products, generating funding for the school.

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An indoor track, which is in demand across the state of Delaware, remains under consideration for the new school.

“One of our options right now is to have an indoor track that also provides spaces for our PE rooms that kind of runs over the gym,” she said. “We have a performing arts section at our school. It’s one of our draws. We have a big theater program. We also have a big band and choir program and dance.”

Alongside the physical expansions, the school is implementing new programs to benefit students, such as natural resources studies and an ASL pathway as part of the World Language program.

“We are getting ready for next school year to launch a brand new career technical education program. It’s a natural resources program,” she said. “We’re going to bring oyster harvesting and marine life, [since] we live right here near the beaches.”

The school strongly emphasizes safety and security, particularly as it prepares for growth. Plans include expanding the constable program, originally introduced by the Indian River School District as a groundbreaking initiative with armed constables stationed on school patrols.

The new Sussex Central High School plans to open in the Fall of 2025.

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