County council approves county’s two sports foundation board appointees

Sussex County councilman Samuel Wilson, second from left, voices concerns during the appointment of two county representatives on the Sussex Sports Center Foundation. From left, county council members Irwin “I.G.” Burton, Mr. Wilson, Michael Vincent and George Cole.

GEORGETOWN – A week later than originally scheduled, Sussex County has official representation on the governing board of the Sussex Sports Center Foundation Inc. that is undertaking the Sandhill Fields multi-field sports complex project.

County council at its Tuesday, July 24 meeting unanimously approved the appointment of Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson and county councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton to serve on the 16-member foundation board.

Gina Jennings, Sussex County’s finance director, will serve as an alternate for the county on the foundation – the governing and fundraising arm of the SSCF.

“The 16 board members; I know I have shared prior my desire to have representation from all five (council) districts on this board of directors. Does that exist today? Do we have representation from all districts on this committee?” asked councilman Rob Arlett. “It’s relevant.”

Mr. Lawson said it is his belief all five council districts are represented.

Besides the two newly appointed county representatives, the SSCF board includes Joseph Schell, Lewes, retired from financial career; Bobby Horsey, Laurel, principal of David G. Horsey and Sons; Zac Crouch, Milton, Bowen Davis and Friedel, Inc.; Preston Schell, Rehoboth Beach, owner, Ocean Atlantic Cos.; Steve Burke, Lewes, financial officer of Dentsply Sirona; Darren Short, Georgetown, captain, Troop 7 Delaware State Police; Bill West, Georgetown, Mayor of Georgetown; Tim Willard, Lewes, lawyer with Fuqua, Willard, Stevens & Schab; Stephanie Parker, Milton, president of Henlopen Soccer Club; Alison Castellanos, Georgetown, Delaware Tech instructor; Brian Pettyjohn, Georgetown, state senator; Tony Sposato, Lewes, CEO of Sposato Landscaping and Irrigation; Tim Bamforth, teacher, coach and president of the Seashore Striders; Dennis March, Berlin, MD, co‐ founder of Saltwater Lacrosse Club.

Site work began the third week of July on the approximate 56 acres north of CHEER Community Center on Sand Hill Road that the foundation plans to turn into a public sports facility.

As proposed, Sandhill Fields will feature eight regulation-size soccer/lacrosse fields; six pickleball courts with pavilion; a 3.1-mile regulation cross country course; 3.5 miles of walking trails; playground equipment; parking for 350 cars; permanent restroom facilities; picnic pavilions; and a food truck area.

The projected cost has increased from $4 million to $5.8, Sussex Sports Center Foundation president Joe Schell reported in a July 17 update to county council, but Sussex County’s financial commitment remains the same: a 50-year, $1.5 million zero-percent interest loan.

Mr. Arlett questioned the substantial increase in the revised cost.

“I thought the original budget was $4 million. And we were $1.5 million of the $4 million. I’ve seen that number go from $4 million up to, what is it, $5.8 million,” said Mr. Arlett.

“We’re still $1.5 million,” said county council president Michael Vincent, referring to the county’s loan commitment.

“I understand that part, but that is a pretty significant increase from the presentation up to $5.8 million. So, I was wondering, is there any explanation, or maybe that was given last week by Mr. Schell?” Mr. Arlett said.

“There was an explanation given last week,” said Mr. Lawson. “I would say in my terms as I understand it the original design and original estimate were very, very rough. And once they got to the point of a design with plans in place, and improvements and approvals from the agencies, the cost to do this went up. Also, from the time we started until the time we actually got ready to start spending the money, things have been busy out there, so I think cost of construction has increased as well.”

“The good news as Mr. Vincent said, the county’s portion of the construction cost remains $1.5 million,” said Mr. Lawson. “What this means is the foundation and the membership is going to have to raise the additional money should they need additional money to see the site completed.”

Council’s appointment action came one week after councilman Samuel Wilson Jr. cast a “no” vote to block recommended approval of the appointments. The vote was 2-1, with Mr. Vincent and Mr. Burton voting in favor.

Three affirmative votes from council are needed for passage. Councilmen George Cole and Mr. Arlett were away representing Sussex County at a national conference.

On the second go-round Mr. Wilson voted “yes,” while continuing to question his perception of the connection between the foundation membership and those involved in contracts for work and construction at the site.

Samuel Wilson

“Mr. Schell is part owner of this contracting, right, and so is (Bobby) Horsey,” said Mr. Wilson. “So, here we don’t even put up the contract at all. So, the taxpayers, it doesn’t matter, how much money they get, right?”

“I’ve lost you Sam,” said Mr. Vincent. “What is the question?”

“Well, the way I see it, the one that is doing the contract here owns this business,” said Mr. Wilson.

“I don’t think anybody owns the foundation,” said Mr. Vincent. “The foundation is a group of people.”

“Who owns the business that is doing the work for us?” said Mr. Wilson. “I believe that Mr. Horsey is doing the work for us, right?”

“They are doing work for the foundation, Sam,” Mr. Vincent said. “The county council has nothing to do with the contracts out there. We have nothing to do with that.”

“I should go along with the Good Ole Boys,” said Mr. Wilson.

“You vote yes or no, it’s up to you,” said Mr. Vincent, who called for the vote.

“Yes, it’s an honor to serve on this board,” said Mr. Burton in casting his affirmative vote.

Under the agreement, SSCF must spend $1.5 million before it can begin drawing on the county loan commitment. Also, Sussex County has an option to buy Sandhill Fields for $1 after 10 years of operations by the SSCF.

The SSCF hopes to have site work completed in time this year to plant Bermuda grass for the playing fields. The targeted opening is September 2019.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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