New Ennis School: Two Stockley parcel options; no planning money in FY18

GEORGETOWN – Indian River School District officials are counting on no planning money in the state’s fiscal year 2018 budget for a new Howard T. Ennis School.

At the June 19 Indian River board of education meeting, IRSD Director of Business Jan Steele informed school board members Delaware’s Office of Management and Budget has notified the district that “we will not be getting planning money this next year as we anticipated. The state does not have those additional funds to grant us.”

“Hopefully, and I can’t say we have been promised, but they are suggesting that we would then be eligible for planning money the next year (FY19),” said Ms. Steele.

Essentially, this means there will be an overall delay in the 100-percent state-funded project to replace the existing outdated Ennis School, which provides special education services for pupils ages pre-school to 21 with significant disabilities within the IRSD and sending districts.

Two parcels in the state-managed Stockley Center property between Georgetown and Millsboro are being considered for the new Howard T. Ennis School.

Recently, the planning plot thickened: there are now two sites under consideration by the state for the location of the new school. Both parcels are owned by the state of Delaware as part of the state-managed Stockley Center located near Sussex Central High School.

An initial 61-acre, triangular-shaped parcel at the corner of Avenue of Honor and Patriots Way has been joined by 28-to-30-acre parcel located across from Sussex Central High School on Patriots Way.

“The other issue is right now we’re up in the air as to which piece of property we would be building on. There are two pieces of property. Both at the Stockley Center area,” said Ms. Steele. “The legislators have gotten involved and are going to write legislation in the bond bill to transfer whichever property the state sees fit to the district as of June 30.”

Ms. Steele added that the district’s certificate of necessity will “be signed after July 1 which gives us a whole other year of acceptance and that way it can be put into the bond bill for next year.”

IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele doesn’t view this as a major setback.

“It gives us that opportunity to narrow this land down and get the transfer, because it has to be done in epilogue language. Once it goes through epilogue then it actually transfers from DHSS (Department of Health & Social Services), where it currently is now, over to the Indian River School District,” Mr. Steele said. “Both are state agencies so it is just a process to go through. No money exchanges or anything like that.”

“They are both good locations,” said Mr. Steele. “The one across from the school I think is currently a Level 4, which they are very strict on what you build there. But usually when it’s something like a school, then it’s OK.”

The initial parcel targeted “is triangular in shape and it’s about 61 acres. On the end closer to the Avenue of Honor you have the room to put the building and things like that. The only problem is as you go toward Millsboro you’re limited because the land really starts to narrow,” said Mr. Steele.

In planning for the CN, the district worked with Milford-based Fearn Clendaniel Architects.

“We brought them up and looked at our current location. We did a needs assessment. That told us how much space was needed for the number of kids. And what really makes Ennis different is you have kids there from two years old all the way up to 21,” said Mr. Steele.

The architectural assessment: an additional 40,000 square feet through expansion would have had to be added to the existing Howard Ennis School. And there isn’t sufficient available space, Mr. Steele said.

“And any time you go into an existing building and do an addition or renovation automatically you’ve got to bring it up to ADA code,” said Mr. Steele. “It would cost probably more money to do that than to build a new building.”

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, meaning no local referendum is required.

“This is significantly bigger because what they needed to do was add at least an additional eight classrooms and there wasn’t room on the property where the Ennis School is currently located to add those rooms,” said Ms. Steele.

Ennis School this past year served about 140 pupils. The current school was built in the early 1970s. “So, you’ve got everything built on the inside according to what the standards were in the 1970s. That is completely different than what it is today,” said Mr. Steele.

District officials initially went through Delaware’s Preliminary Land Use Service process for the 61-acre parcel.

“We did go through the PLUS meeting on this triangular portion because we originally thought that was the land that was going to be given to us,” said Mr. Steele, who incorporated a special funding request in the district’s CN.

“Traffic is going to be a concern and a problem. Matter of fact, in the CN I had written in ‘extraordinary funds’ because we know on U.S. 113 chances are there probably needs to be a light put in. And at the end of the Avenue of Honor and Patriots Way it’s quite possible there will be another one,” said Mr. Steele.

“That (state funding) is going to be the big key,” said Mr. Steele. “If we go through and get the land and the things we need for the PLUS this year we can get our planning money for the following year, and we can get a jumpstart on that.”

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

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