Site work is underway on a new 56-acre sports complex in Georgetown.
During a July 17 report to Sussex County Council, Sussex Sports Center Foundation Board President Joe Schell said the board has changed the name of the complex to Sandhill Fields as a better marketing tool. The foundation will continue to raise funds to build, maintain and operate the complex.
Sandhill Fields, on Sand Hill Road near the Route 9 intersection, will feature eight Bermuda grass fields for lacrosse and soccer, six pickleball courts, a playground, two picnic pavilions, restroom facilities, parking for 350 vehicles, a food truck area and a 3.5-mile walking trail that includes a certified 3.1-mile cross country trail.
Schell said the complex will be available to the public when events – such as tournaments – are not scheduled. Money to support the complex will be raised through tournaments and fees paid by sports clubs and teams for use of the fields.
Schell pointed out that New Castle County maintains 247 public parks and Kent County has 38 public parks. “This will a first in Sussex County,” he said.
Schell said the original cost estimate of $4 million has increased to $5.8 million, which will include a $550,000 contingency fund.
Schell said nearly $4 million has been raised or committed so far. “We’ve been doing a good job of fund raising,” he said. “We have a ways to go, but we’ll get there.”
Schell said the board has a goal of raising $4 million from private sources and $1.8 million from public sources. To date, $2.4 million has been raised from private donations and $1.5 million from public sources.
Donations so far include the 56-acre parcel for the sports complex valued at $400,000; $250,000 for land needed for intersection improvements at the Route 9 intersection; $25,000 for sewer and and water lines; $100,000 for the two picnic pavilions; and $50,000 for playground equipment.
Included in the funding is a $1.5 million loan from Sussex County. The foundation can draw down from the loan after it spends $1.5 million. The 50-year, zero-interest loan has no principal payments due until 2030.
Under a memorandum of understanding between the foundation and county, Sussex officials have the option to purchase the complex for $1 up to 30 days after the 10th anniversary of operations.
Schell said as a nonprofit, the foundation has a goal of breaking even or making a modest profit, but that's not projected to occur until 2022.
In September, the fields will be seeded and irrigation will be installed. Schell said it takes Bermuda grass a full summer of growing before it can be played on. Once site work is completed, work can begin on the complex amenities. He said he hopes Sandhill Fields will open in September 2019.
A complex manager and maintenance staff will be hired in 2019. The foundation board vice president is Robert Horsey of David G. Horsey & Sons and the treasurer is Steve Burke, financial officer at Dentsply Sirona. Other board members include Tim Bamforth of Seashore Striders; Zac Crouch, Davis, Bowen and Friedel; Gene Dvornick, Georgetown town manager; Dennis March, co-founder of Saltwater Lacrosse; Stephanie Parker, president of Henlopen Soccer Club; Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown; Preston Schell, Ocean Atlantic Companies; Capt. Darren Short, DSP Troop 7; Tony Sposato, Sposato Landscaping and Irrigation; Rob Tunnell, Tunnell Companies; Bill West, mayor of Georgetown; and Peter Morrow, retired CEO of Welfare Foundation. Two members representing Sussex County government will also be added to the board.
Wilson halts board appointments
A motion by County Administrator Todd Lawson to appoint himself and Councilman I.G. Burton, R-Lewes, to the 17-member foundation board, with Finance Director Gina Jennings as an alternate, was defeated when Councilman Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, voted against it.
Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, and Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, were both at a conference and not in attendance at the meeting. Burton and Council President Mike Vincent, R-Seaford, voted in favor of the motion, which required three votes to pass. Wilson said the board did not have enough representation from the Georgetown area where the sports complex will be located.
Schell said the centralized location of Sandhill Fields allows for easy access from every city in Sussex County. Almost every city in the county is less than 20 miles away.