MILLVILLE — It’s been decades since the freshmen at Millville High School attended the same building as the juniors and seniors, but in a little more than two years, that will change.

“Watching this moment unfold now proves that the wait has been worth it,” Superintendent David Gentile said Thursday during a ceremonial groundbreaking on what will be an 82,000-square-foot addition at the senior high school.

The exterior of the senior high school is faded, and in areas, paint and cement are chipping away from the facade. Trailers set up on the north side of the building — a temporary fix that has lasted years longer than expected — contain 17 classrooms to accommodate the large student population. In recent years, student population in the district has been on the decline, but the crowded halls remained.

The multiphase, $137.5 million project funded through the New Jersey Schools Development Authority will renovate and update the aging and overcrowded building, and bring unity to the high school, Gentile said.

In all, the project will include 230,000 square feet of additions and 55,000 square feet of renovations, according to the SDA.

Millville is one of 31 SDA districts in the state that qualify for project funding. According to SDA CEO Lizette Delgado Polanco, this is the third and most complex capital project the state has taken on in the city. So far, she said, the SDA has invested $55 million in Millville.

“We are here today as your partner, as advocates on behalf of the students,” Delgado Polanco said during Thursday’s event that included students, staff and state, city and school officials. “The expansion of Millville High School will give you a place where you can dream and become men and women of vision and success. And that is my commitment to you.”

Millville Senior High School opened in the 1960s to replace the 100-year-old Memorial High School a mile away. Now, the district’s 1,700 high school students are split between the two buildings. Once the expansion is complete, the senior high school will house up to 2,300 students.

Principal Stephanie DeRose said the renovations will provide a facility that helps promote opportunities in careers and secondary education. This phase of the renovations will include 32 classrooms, a new cafeteria, a life skills room and two self-contained classrooms for students with special needs.

“This is just the beginning,” DeRose said.

When complete, the high school will have a new gymnasium, science labs, auditorium and engineering labs.

The Millville School District has been waiting many years for the upgrade to its high school, long plagued by overcrowding. Gentile said the plan has evolved over several decades from a new building to renovations and expansion.

“We may not be building a brand new high school, instead we’re embracing fiscal responsibility,” he said. “We’re overhauling this campus with as little waste as possible.”

Gentile said having all the students in one high school will create efficiencies and economies of scale. He said the students deserve an updated facility.

Mayor Michael Santiago said he was happy officials in northern New Jersey are recognizing South Jersey. Delgado Polanco said that as a South Jersey native — she grew up in Hammonton and raised kids in Pleasantville — she knows the needs of the region, and the struggles of the students and parents.

“For me, it is important that it doesn’t matter what your ZIP code is, that the state of New Jersey is here to say, ‘We don’t care where you live, we’re going to provide you with an equitable facility, so that you can have a 21st century education,” she said.

Gentile said the district is still considering options for the Memorial High School, including alternative programming and special education.

This is the second time this year the SDA was in Cumberland County for a project ceremony. In September, officials cut the ribbon on a new middle school in Vineland.

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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