Ennis School update: State OKs certificate for rectangular parcel

GEORGETOWN – Sometimes good news does come out of Dover.

A seemingly muddled scenario has apparently taken a turn for the better in efforts to replace the outdated Howard T. Ennis School with a new facility to serve pupils pre-school to 21 with significant disabilities within the IRSD and sending districts.

Indian River School District Superintendent Mark Steele at the Aug. 28 board of education meeting shared news stemming from an Aug. 24 meeting in Dover.

Mark Steele

“We had a good meeting in Dover last Thursday,” said Mr. Steele.

In a nutshell, the district’s certificate of necessity has been approved to build the new school on a rectangular parcel across from Sussex Central High School on Patriots Way. The district had previously gained CN approval for a triangular parcel on the Avenue of Honor. Both parcels are owned by the state of Delaware as part of the state-managed Stockley Center.

“We were a little bit afraid, if we choose to not go with the triangular plot that we would probably run out of time by the end of Aug. 31 and our CN would be declined and we would have to reapply,” said Mr. Steele. “Since we have narrowed it down to two locations they have OKed our CN.”

School district officials had feared resubmitting a second CN would set the project back a full year.

Mr. Steele noted the presence at the meeting in Dover of several downstate legislators – State Representatives Dave Wilson and Harvey Kenton, State Senators Brian Pettyjohn and Gerald Hocker and former State Sen. George Bunting. They joined Mr. Steele, school board president Charles Bireley and IRSD Building and Grounds Supervisor Joe Booth at the meeting.

“Our legislators really pushed because they knew the district liked the rectangular plot across from Sussex Central High School,” said Mr. Steele.

The CN included the signature of Department of Education Secretary Dr. Susan Bunting, former superintendent of the Indian River district.

“The CN is legal and binding,” said Mr. Steele. “Dr. Bunting has worked very hard from her position as secretary of education. But our local legislators have worked very, very hard in trying to make this possible.”

The next step: another PLUS (Preliminary Land Use Service) application. That was due to the PLUS Committee by Sept. 1. It was to include an architectural rendering of a conceptual diagram of the rectangular plot, Mr. Steele said.

That would pave the way for another sit-down PLUS meeting, possibly Sept. 22 or 23 with DNREC, DelDOT and all the other agencies the district be dealing with in the construction project. Final results from PLUS Committee are expected by the second week of October, Mr. Steele said.

“One of the things that, the state is trying to do as you know is trying to save money. What they want to make sure of is we do not get a parcel of land that has unforeseen issues that could drive the cost up considerably,” said Mr. Steele.

The new Ennis School project, a proposed 76,500-square-foot facility, carries an estimated price tag of $47 million. It will be totally funded by state money; thus, no local referendum is required. The current Ennis School, located in Georgetown on Ennis Road, is almost five decades old.

Th district is requesting about 30 acres of the rectangular parcel for the project. The land was rated Level 4 several years ago, which isn’t favorably conducive in the state’s eyes for major building projects. Since then, there have been infrastructure improvements in the area, including roadway expansion/alignment of Patriots Way near Sussex Central High School.

“The big question was if it’s Level 4 property is it going to be changed to a Level 2?” said Mr. Steele. “I think the answer that we heard … was ‘no,’ it doesn’t necessarily have to go to a Level 2. But there are special circumstances that you can build on a Level 4. And a school which houses our severely handicapped students at Howard T. Ennis would qualify for special circumstances.”

“So, this is maybe great news,” said Mr. Steele/ “There is a discussion of a possible mini-bond bill in January. We don’t know if we would qualify for any of that bond bill or not. We never got any kind of a definite answer … if we could get possible funding so that we could at least start the planning stage of this.”

“We still may be 2020 folks before we get the money. That may be just how long we have to wait. That is a state issue. That is really not our issue,” said Mr. Steele. “Again, this is a 100-percent state-funded project. So that’s where we are.”

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

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