Lewes looking at new uses for old utility complex

Assessing Schley Avenue property redevelopment
This birds-eye view of the Lewes Board of Public Works Schley Avenue site shows the old power plant and existing drinking water treatment plant buildings. BPW and city officials are exploring possible new uses for both structures. A new water treatment facility being built near Cape Henlopen High School is expected to begin operating in August. ARTWORK BY CHRISTOPHER FOSTER
July 8, 2013


A utility complex that has served Lewes Board of Public Works since 1901 as a power plant and later as a drinking water treatment facility could become a brewery or an oyster farm.

Those are among uses under consideration by BPW and City of Lewes officials, who are considering possible uses for the Schley Avenue buildings and land.

Generators inside a building that once produced electricity for Lewes ceased operating decades ago and have been sold.

An adjacent building houses the BPW’s obsolete, but still working, drinking water treatment plant. A new treatment plant is under construction at the city’s well field site, adjacent to Cape Henlopen High School, and is expected to go on-line Thursday, Aug. 1, said Darrin Gordon, BPW general manager.

At a June 21, joint city-BPW meeting, the group reviewed possible uses for the Schley Avenue buildings. The panel took no action.

In 2009, the BPW hired Lewes architect Michael Cohalan to develop a proposal to retrofit the complex.

Cohalan’s detailed proposal included historical photos of the building, photos as it is, and architectural renderings of what it could become.

The 2009 study suggested many of the same ideas in the recent overview Gordon and board members Pres Lee and Jim Richmann put together.

The overview’s purpose is to communicate the board’s interest in redeveloping the Schley property for the good of the city and BPW ratepayers.


The report lists several options. The building could be sealed and nothing more done.

This option was quickly dismissed because it does not reflect the intentions of the board and city to be good neighbors.

The buildings could be maintained and preserved for a future opportunity. Soil in pits the electric generators once sat above is known to be contaminated with hydrocarbons, and is an environmental problem that must be corrected.

The buildings could be demolished; the space could be used for a community parking lot with an environmentally sensitive design.

The site could be sold or offered under long-term lease to the highest bidder. Proceeds could be used to mitigate environmental damage and reinvested to generate revenue for new BPW capital projects.

Community fundraising, grants, and state and federal matching funds might be obtained and pay for building reuse opportunities that would benefit city residents.

The most popular suggestion was to use the buildings as a brewery and an oyster farm. Gordon came up with the oyster farm idea, which he said could serve two purposes. Oysters are filter feeders and could further reduce Lewes’ wastewater nutrient output. The reduction would be reflected in increasingly strict state and federal water quality testing. The oysters would also be sold. The panel laughed and joked about the appeal of a natural fit– a brewery next to an oyster farm.

Schley Avenue site current uses

The city, BPW and various community groups all use a portion of the city-owned site. Lewes Greater Community Village houses an administrative office in the blue house near to the old power plant.

Lewes Police Department uses a corner portion of the parcel for vehicle parking.

The city holds title to the property, but the board paid $400,000 for the undeveloped portion. The site is in an R4, residential medium-density (historic) zone.

“Historically, the property has been reserved for BPW use in accordance with its charter mission,” the report states.

Whatever the structures are used for must follow guidelines. Uses must be unique, not a reproduction of something that already exists, and the city and community should gain from the project.

Lewes’ core values must be considered, including highlighting the city’s heritage through building design and architectural preservation.

Building uses must also be well-matched with the city’s master plan, which aims to maintain the community’s character and quality of life for residents.

Ventures must also provide a return on investment, and the BPW’s future needs have to be considered.

Lewes’ Schley buildings could serve several purposes

A report developed by Lewes Board of Public Works general manager Darrin Gordon and board members Pres Lee and Jim Richmann, lists numerous possible uses for the BPW’s old power plant building and drinking water treatment facility.

• If the buildings were demolished, the space could be used for parking; open green space; or community garden plots.

• Selling or leasing the buildings might lead to use as: brewery; marine repair shop; warehouse or storage terminal; light-industrial factory;

special use industrial facility; office building; medical laboratory; artist-craftsman loft studios; theater, lecture hall or church; research laboratory; data center; television, radio, or recording studio.

• Uses that might be funded by the BPW to generate revenue include: medical records storage; electricity micro‐grid (fuel cell-based power generation); solar farm; bottled water plant; geothermal production-management; oyster farm (providing water pollution offset credits); renewable energy training facility; or rain garden demonstration area.

• Using investments from community funds, the buildings could be used for: community center; indoor market; performance center; art gallery; convention center; museum-museum warehouse; education center; or small business incubator.