Another PLUS a minus for IRSD’s prime pick for new Ennis School

GEORGETOWN – Geometry – triangle versus rectangle – is factoring in the timetable equation for construction of a new Howard T. Ennis School.

Indian River School District’s board of education is weighing two options for the site of a new facility that would provide special education services for pupils pre-school to 21 with significant disabilities within the IRSD and sending districts.

The current Ennis School, located in Georgetown on Ennis Road, is a few years shy of turning 50 years old. Quarters are often cramped for students and staff.

An architectural assessment determined an additional 40,000 square feet through expansion would have had to be added to the existing Howard Ennis School. That space does not exist at the school site.

“What we do know: there is a desperate need to get this done,” said State Sen. Gerald Hocker.

The new Ennis School project, a proposed 76,500-square-foot facility, carries an estimated price tag of $47 million. It will be 100-percent funded by state money, meaning no local referendum is required.

Both parcels – an initial 61-acre, triangular-shaped parcel at the corner of Avenue of Honor and Patriots Way and a smaller parcel across from Sussex Central High School on Patriots Way – are owned by the state of Delaware as part of the state-managed Stockley Center.

The two parcels were included in epilogue language of the Bond Bill, which would pave the way for planning money.

District officials are leaning toward the smaller rectangular parcel. IRSD school board president Charles Bireley calls it the “prime property.”

Word from the Delaware Office of Management and Budget last week has created an unexpected twist.

“One of the drawbacks – we have an interesting quagmire – is if we continue to move toward the new rectangular plot we’re not going to have the opportunity to go through a PLUS (Preliminary Land Use Service) meeting in time in order to get our money in 2019,” said IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele. “We’ll actually have to do a new CN (Certificate of Necessity) and go through that process again, and get our money in 2020.”

“That came from a different state agency. They said we won’t get a PLUS meeting which we have to get results back in time for a CN,” said Mr. Steele.

The certificate of necessity could be for either one. “But when you go to the PLUS meeting we have to go with the property in hand. At the PLUS meeting, we went with the triangular portion,” said Mr. Steele.

Sussex Central High School is the area bordered in white (top right). The district’s preferred site is the gray rectangular area across from SCHS. The triangular parcel is outlined in blue.

“The reason they did that is we were told that the other one (rectangular parcel) was not an option for us,” said Mr. Bireley.

“Both of them are included. But what happened is they originally would love to have the site directly in front of Sussex Central High School. And they backed out of it because it was a Level 4 piece of property that couldn’t be developed on,” said Sen. Hocker. “The only reason, what we’re finding out that it was a Level 4 is because there was nothing there, no infrastructure there. Then Sussex Central High School went there and changed all of that. We’re trying to get that level changed so they can use that piece of property. And there is sewer and water there now for the school. So, it’s there. We’re trying to get all of that changed and reversed.”

“They generally do not like the school to build on Level 4. So, it’s going to require a lot of work,” said Mr. Steele. “We can’t do it in time for us to get the Aug. 31 deadline. As of now … but it could change.”

Sen. Gerald Hocker

Sen. Hocker said the Bond Bill epilogue language stated whatever piece “they pick would be already approved for the exchange. The only problem now is we thought the epilogue would take care of the Certificate of Necessity with DOE (Department of Education). And now we are being told if they do that they’ve got to go through the (PLUS) process with the state again, and it would hold up their funding at least a year.”

“But I don’t know why they’ve got to go through that again when we put in the Bond Bill that it would work on either piece; it would be transferred on either piece of property,” said Sen. Hocker. “They say the wording was vague and I don’t understand it because we had help with this wording so this wouldn’t happen.”

“One parcel is going to set us back a year and it’s going to require a re-submittal of the CN. The second parcel, which is the triangular parcel that we looked at first, we could continue,” said Mr. Steele, adding there are some issues with the triangular parcel.

The water system would likely have to go through the town of Millsboro and septic through the town of Georgetown, Mr. Steele said.

According to school board member Dr. Donald Hattier, it is his understanding in consultation with Sen. Hocker that the land was rated Level 4 several years ago before a lot of the improvements and other things had come through the area; and with the exception of a small cemetery in the back corner “that it was definitely doable. “

“That (site across from SCHS) was the original pick. And the only reason why they stayed away from it was the Level 4 and we’re working on getting that changed,” said Sen. Hocker. “A lot has to be done. It has to be surveyed to make it right. It has to be delineated for wetlands and all of that, which we don’t think there is any wetlands on there. There is a lot that has to be done but that is the ideal place for it.”

Mr. Steele reiterated again that the “problem is you still have to go through the PLUS system and have their results back. There is no way we can get through the PLUS to get results back before Aug. 31.”

“Could we wait to vote on this until we talk to somebody like Sen. Hocker and get a clearer opinion?” asked Dr. Hattier.

The school board chose to table the matter.

“It can wait another month,” said Mr. Bireley.

Sen. Hocker said the potential one-year delay caused by another PLUS review and CN re-submittal may not matter.

“With all the other problems with the triangular piece and no funding with the state it will probably be at least a year anyway,” said Sen. Hocker. “So, it may not make any difference. But we need to find that out.”

Sen. Hocker said the drive for a new Ennis School began during the legislative tenure of then state Sen. George Bunting, whom Sen. Hocker succeeded as the 20th District winner in the November 2012 election.

“Prior to me being the senator of this district Sen. Bunting was working on this. He started this. It was his lead; I took it from him,” said Sen. Hocker. “And he has been a great help to me even now. We both know that this is desperately needed and we need to get on it as quick as possible.”

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

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