Plans for new Ennis School moving forward

GEORGETOWN – Geometrically speaking, Indian River School District has chosen rectangular rather triangular as the preferred site for a new Howard T. Ennis School.

With Delaware Department of Health and Social Services’ blessing, IRSD’s board of education at its Nov. 27 meeting voted 8-0 to go with the rectangular parcel as the future site for the new facility to serve pupils pre-school to 21 with significant disabilities within the IRSD and sending districts.

The rectangular parcel located across from Sussex Central High School on Patriots Way as well as a triangular plot located at the Avenue of Honor and Patriots Way are both part of the state-managed Stockley Center Campus.

The board’s unanimous vote for the rectangular plot followed IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele’s announcement of DHSS’s support for either of the two parcels in a Nov. 7 letter from DHSS Sec. Dr. Kara Odom Walker.

“They have given us permission to use either site; the triangular plot or the rectangular plot that I think we feel would work out much better. It’s directly across from Sussex Central High School,” said Mr. Steele.

Per language in the state’s fiscal year 2018 Bond Bill, DHSS will approve the transfer once the property has been subdivided. When a final decision has been made on the location and the property has been subdivided Sec. Walker will send an approval letter as required to move the transfer forward.

“There are still some things we have to jump through such as the cemetery delineation and the survey,” said Mr. Steele. “We are prepared to do that.”

Mr. Steele said he already written letters to Delaware Department of Education Sec. Dr. Susan Bunting, State Planning Director Connie Holland and Office of Management and Budget Director Michael Jackson indicating that the board had voted on choosing the rectangular plot.

“I have requested official permission from them to allow us to build the school on that plot. We don’t have it yet. That is considered Level 4 property,” said Mr. Steele. “The next step – if they say yes they grant us permission – is going to be getting the transfer of the land done. That goes through a legislative process.”

In August, the school district received notification that its certificate of necessity was 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 the triangular parcel on the Avenue of Honor.

In rough ballpark estimates, the project for a new 76,000-to-80,000 square-foot Ennis facility is projected to cost around $46 million.

“It was based on a high school square-footage basis because a lot of the kids at Ennis are high school age,” said Mr. Steele.

Because the project will be totally funded by state money no local referendum is required.

The present Ennis School, located in Georgetown on Ennis Road, is approximately 45 years.

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

Mark Steele

The cemetery in question is an old burial ground utilized by the Stockley Center, Mr. Steele said.

“We have to do a delineation where the cemetery is located in the back of that property. We’ll bring in an archeologist or somebody with a background that can actually X-ray the ground and test to make sure there are no burial plots extending out,” said Mr. Steele. “We just have to make sure that it doesn’t extend out in that field making the property un-buildable. We really don’t want to do a lot until that is done and we know for sure that we are in the clear and have plenty of room for the school.”

Timeline

If all goes well, Mr. Steele said the hope is the district will be able to receive money, this coming July 2018 with the Bond Bill “so we can start the planning phase, all of the schematics and things like that.”

Depending on approval from agencies such as DNREC and DelDOT ground-breaking could conceivably be in July 2019 or perhaps sooner.

“And these are not concrete dates,” said Mr. Steele.

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

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