A community pool and gym, walking trails and bike paths, an equestrian center and a botanical garden are among nearly 100 ideas a community task force will consider as future uses of Stockley Center near Georgetown.
State health officials met with area residents March 27 in Georgetown to discuss plans for the 750-acre center off Route 113.
A sprawling, state-owned facility, Stockley Center houses 64 residents with developmental disabilities, with buildings for aquatic therapy, a childcare center and an adolescent development center.
The plan to expand Stockley began more than a year ago as state officials discussed ways to improve access to outdoor recreation in the interest of improving the health of Delaware residents, said Delaware Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf.
Moderator of the meeting, consultant Mary Kane, president of Concept Systems, said over the past year more than 100 residents have brainstormed ideas.
In a separate meeting March 25, 40 residents were assigned to four task forces to review the ideas and outline achievable goals. Each task force is focused on a specific topic, from health and wellness to outdoor opportunities.
The task forces will provide final recommendations to state officials by June, Kane said.
Kane has worked with the state in the past, helping develop the Screening for Life program, which also started out with a brainstorming process. She said once the plans are narrowed, then the state seeks funding for the project.
Kane said, “One idea is to have adaptive trails for those in wheelchairs, or those who are visually- or hearing-impaired.”
After the meeting, Stockley Center Executive Director Adele Wemlinger said many of the residents are interested in improvements for residents at the center.
“People are supportive of maintaining the tranquility of the center, but also maintaining the protection and safety of the people living there,” Wemlinger said. “Many are interested in including an equestrian center and walking trails, as well as a botanical garden.”
Wemlinger also said she would like to see the expansion of medical and dental services at the center. “It would have to be very well-coordinated, and medical professionals could work there for a day or a half-day, depending on needs,” Wemlinger said.
Landgraf agreed. “Stockley Center has evolved," she said. One possibility is establishing a state-of-the-art medical center for people statewide with disabilities, she said. Medically compromised children from across the state could be cared for at Stockley, she said.
Judy Kirkey, president of the Auxiliary of Stockley Center,areed medical services should be improved. “The people now sometimes can't even get a tooth pulled. It's really sad,” she said.
Muriel Pfeiffer, auxiliary treasurer, said she is opposed to opening Stockley for the public.
"The property was given to the residents of Stockley," Pfeiffer said. "They seem to think that the people of Stockley need to be in the outside world, but handicapped people like to be in their own little world."
Students from Indian River High School and Sussex Central High School – a stone's throw from the center – send students with an interest in nursing to Stockley for training.
Pfeiffer said she supports educational opportunities for students, and she also supports improved medical and therapeutic services for residents and handicapped people in the community.
"It would be great if the therapeutic horseback riding group could have a barn at Stockley and have classes," Pfeiffer said. "That's a great idea, and one that would really benefit the residents of Stockley."
The Auxiliary of Stockley Center raises money for projects at the center. Members are concerned a large influx of people to the mostly secluded site could harm quality of life for residents.
“I just hope that you don't forget what is there, and why it's there,” Kirkey said. “Let's not get carried away and put the world out there simply because there is some land available.”
Residents may still participate in the planning process for the future of Stockley. For more information, contact Jill Fredel at DHSS by calling (302) 255-9047.
What is Stockley Center
Built in 1921, the 750-acre Stockley Center includes residential areas, an assisted-living facility, apartments, aquatic therapy center, a childcare center, an adolescent development center, several historic walking trails and miles and miles of wooded forest, including a 307-acre wildlife preserve known as the Doe Bridge Nature Preserve just east of Route 113.
In 1917, a group of women through the federated women's clubs in Delaware organized a campaign to provide a state institution to care for people with developmental disabilities, said Gayle King, volunteer services coordinator for Stockley.
Most of the land was donated by Gov. John Townsend. It was operated by the Delaware Commission for the Feeble Minded. The commission supervised the construction of buildings and housed, what was then known as a colony for the feeble minded, King said.
The state took over the facility in 1955 and continues to operate it today under its current name of Stockley Center.
Created to serve people with disabilities, the center has been used in the past by Boy Scouts, and Delaware State Police have conducted training exercises on the grounds. Today, much of the property is unused, prompting state officials to consider opening the property for public use.