USDA grant to help complete new Sussex Academy building


Moving into a new building just got a little easier for Sussex Academy, which was awarded a $6.25 million loan from USDA Rural Development.

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: U.S. Sen. Tom Carper joined Sussex Academy students and administrators recently to celebrate the USDA Rural Development loan that will help renovate their new school building. Pictured, from left, are David Sandretti, a USDA Rural Development national director; student Cohen Davis; Carper; student Elise Conlin; and Kathy Beisner, acting state director for Delaware and Maryland.Coastal Point • Laura Walter
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper joined Sussex Academy students and administrators recently to celebrate the USDA Rural Development loan that will help renovate their new school building. Pictured, from left, are David Sandretti, a USDA Rural Development national director; student Cohen Davis; Carper; student Elise Conlin; and Kathy Beisner, acting state director for Delaware and Maryland.

In their mission to expand from middle school only to also including high school, Sussex Academy recently swapped school buildings with Delmarva Christian High School, which had amended its own vision to serve a smaller population than originally planned.

The Georgetown schools will fit well in each other’s former homes, but Sussex Academy is also paying $10 million for the building and making renovations to the unfinished portions.

The USDA loan will pay for 60 percent of the building cost. In repaying the loan, the school will only pay interest for the first three years.

“Federal funding has made this possible,” said Kathy Beisner, USDA Rural Development’s acting state director for Delaware and Maryland. “This is your taxes coming home to help.”

The USDA also helped the former Sussex Academy of the Arts and Sciences build their original home of 13 years, in 2000.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper pointed out at this week’s event that he had signed the state bill on charter schools when he was Delaware governor.

“It gives us a chance to try something new and use those ideas in public schools, and vice versa,” Carper said. “We know we need a good workforce. We’re fortunate to have that good a school.”

Around 120 middle-school students will attend Sussex Academy next year, and the teaching staff will grow from 19 to 24. The school’s new navy-and-purple mascot is the sea hawk.

“The osprey is found worldwide, and we view ourselves school interested in exploration,” said Sussex Academy’s director, Patricia Oliphant.

Upcoming ninth-grader Cohen Davis is among the first approximately 30 students who will move into the high school next year. He said he didn’t expect the high school to open so quickly.

“I figured that it would probably end up being a good school, with how well the middle school has done so far,” said Davis, who is especially interested in the International Baccalaureate program and in math and science.

Without the reduced-interest loan, Sussex Academy was also considering bonds and bank financing for the project. They had raised $4.8 million as of April and have already paid for completion of six new classrooms.

The unfinished Delmarva Christian had a gym and classrooms at opposite ends of the building. Yet, the center portion, with a main office and massive “cafetorium,” were unfinished and blocked off. Now, the two halves are fully connected.

“This is a teacher’s dream to have this much space,” said Oliphant, motioning to 1,000-square-foot classrooms, whereas Sussex Academy teachers had previously had half that space.

She thanked the USDA offices in Dover and Washington, D.C., as well as school director Allen Stafford, who wrote the grant, Regional Builders, Horizon Philanthropic fundraisers and Delmarva Christian officials. She also thanked Carper’s office for their years of support and quick response.

“We have … new uniforms, a new school, new logo and new promise for what this school can do for youngsters in Sussex County,” Oliphant said.