Indian River School District officials can move forward with plans for a new Howard T. Ennis School, as soon as they get a green light from state transportation officials.
At its March 17 meeting, on a recommendation of approval from the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission, Sussex County Council unanimously approved a conditional-use application filed by the district. Ennis School offers services to students throughout Sussex County ages 4 to 21 who have significant disabilities.
Council urged district officials to work closely with Delaware Department of Transportation officials to provide significant road improvements in an area that will eventually be the location of three schools.
District spokesman Joe Booth said officials are still negotiating required road improvements in the area, including a possible traffic light at the Route 113-Patriots Way intersection.
Booth said district officials understand that the new schools plus a proposed school-bus hub will put additional burden on the roads. “We want students and staff to be safe,” he said. “We'll support whatever DelDOT proposes.”
The district plans to build a new, nearly 310,000-square-foot high school directly across from the Ennis site and convert the existing high school to a middle school. The new high school will be built to house 2,200 students and the middle school could house 1,500 students, Booth said.
“This has a potential to be a nightmare. The road issues have to be addressed,” said Councilman John Rieley of Millsboro.
Old school dates back nearly 50 years
The 94,000-square-foot Ennis School will be located on a 32-acre parcel on Patriots Way across from Sussex Central High School near Georgetown. The land was originally part of the Stockley Center now owned by Delaware Health and Social Services. The parcel has been transferred to the district by the state.
The school will be nearly 40,000 square feet larger than the current school, built 49 years ago on Ennis Road in Georgetown. The old school will revert back to its original owner, Delaware Technical Community College.
“The school's mission has changed and equipment has developed, so the existing building no longer meets the needs of our clients,” Booth said.
The new school will have 34 classrooms and 24 administration rooms, and will accommodate 250 students and 150 staff members. The $45 million school will be built with state funds.
The school will not have a competition-size pool like the old school, but will have a therapy pool about one-third the size of the existing pool, Booth said.
Booth said the district anticipates breaking ground in early November.
Better roads in the area
While council supported the project, members cautioned the district to work with DelDOT officials to develop a master plan for the area to alleviate what council called potentially serious traffic issues.
Councilmen Irwin “I.G.” Burton of Lewes and Rieley implored Booth to reach out to DelDOT.
“You know all the pieces, and I don't know if DelDOT understands all the pieces,” Burton said. “It's all taxpayers' money, so let's just spend it once. We need a master plan to alleviate a lot of problems we know are coming.”
Rieley, who has a son who is a senior at Sussex Central High School, reiterated what Burton said.
“You live here; you know the intersections better than anyone,” he told Booth. “I see accidents and kids getting hurt if they don't step up and improve all of the infrastructure in that area.”