Kent County Profile event touts progress

DOVER — The Kent Economic Partnership and the Delaware State News celebrated the release of their eighth Kent County Economic Profile on Tuesday morning at the Kent County Recreation Center in Dover.

The unveiling of the profile is an event that has become the de facto update on economic progress in the county. Local politicians, delegates, organization leaders and administrators were all on hand to receive the dispatch.

The venue for the event itself represents a project that was long in the works that recently came to term last June. The Kent County Recreation Center and Boys and Girls Club facility on New Burton Road carries a theme that was reinforced throughout the presentations: the power of partnerships.

Jeremy Sheppard, director of Community Services for Kent County, said the now completed facility first entered the planning stages in 1991.

“It was called out as a future growth item in the ‘91 master plan for Parks and Recreation,” he said. “It wasn’t until about 2005 a fund was started in order to start the project.”

In 2010, the county, in cooperation with DelDOT and Boy Scouts of America, purchased 183 acres of what was Kesselring Farm, he added. Becker Morgan Group led the architectural engineering for the project to bring the two entities together in one facility; EDiS Company acted as the construction manager for the recreation center and Lighthouse Construction, Inc. built the center core of the building and the Boys and Girls Club portion of the project. The facility opened officially on June 4 last year.

“On the whole, Kent County’s budget for the project was $10.7 million, and that does not include the investment that the Boys and Girls Club brought to the table,” said Mr. Sheppard. “It was the biggest project that Kent County Parks and Recreation has ever done.”

All told, the recreations center offers 62,000 sq. ft. of indoors space; 30,000 of that is the gymnasium and office space used by Parks and Recreation. It offers four full-length basketball courts that can be reconfigured in a variety of ways to host different activities.

“The courts can be split into thirds to play volleyball, pickleball, junior tennis, indoor lacrosse, indoor soccer, floor hockey, indoor field hockey and even more,” said Mr. Sheppard. “Number one right now in terms of popularity is adult basketball, followed closely by pickleball. We even have 24 kids in our inaugural indoor flag football program.”

Another draw, especially in the summer months, has been that the entire facility is air conditioned, he said. Just outside, the recreation center also has an outdoor, full-sized turf field attached. This is accompanied by an outdoor restroom facility that doubles as a concession stand.

“It’s lit and has a cooling irrigation system, so people as young as one and as old as 97 have a safe, controlled play area,” said Mr. Sheppard.

Todd Stonesifer of the Kent County Association of Realtors offered a quick look at the real estate sales numbers for 2016 at the event.
He noted that the total amount of units sold in 2016 was 2,083 which was a 6.6 percent bump from 2015. The average sale price of a home in Kent County rose 2.3 percent in 2016 to $199,000. The average number of days homes spent on the market decreased 5 percent from 87 days in 2015 to 83 days in 2016.
“The market is clearly improving,” he said.

The core of the facility that joins the two organizations is about 7,000 square feet and the Boys and Girls Club potion has about 25,000 square feet of indoor programming. This portion of the facility opened a few days after the recreation center on June 13. Director of the Greater Dover the Boys and Girls Club Jacob Getty Jr. said that it’s been getting stead attention ever since then.

“A lot of kids have been coming our way,” he said. “We’re proud to have a pre-school program that has 44 kids coming daily – some coming in as early as 6:30 a.m. and some leaving as late as 6 p.m.”

The club’s teen program has also been steadily increasing in popularity, Mr. Getty said.

“Many teens are coming in after school, and as you know, in our community, it’s really important to educate and provide leadership and support to our youngsters,” he said. “We’ve had some research studies done in the state recently on the Boys and Girls Club and some of the things they found are parents benefit economically by seeking employment, and there is a reduction in crime among kids during those critical hours between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.”

The facility was also laid out in a way to accommodate future growth, should the need arise. Mr. Sheppard said that an adjacent 30,000 sq. ft. was left open next to the recreation center with utility hookups ready if the gymnasium needed to be expanded. He also has been considering the facilities location as a future hub for nearby nature trails.

“The west Dover connector that DelDOT has been working on for the last year and a half is going to bring off-road trail improvements all the way up from Salisbury Road here down to Rt. 13 right past Brecknock Park,” he said.

“The county is planning on putting a wetland boardwalk across the Isaac Branch to connect with the Brecknock Park nature trail which is already very popular. We hope to interconnect all these trails in order to provide for biking and walkability all around the recreation center.”

Coming this year

Bill Andrew, chairman of the Kent Economic Partnership, held up the soon-to-open DE Turf complex as another example of public/private partnership that produced impressive results.

“It’s will have 12 state-of-the-art turf fields when it opens in May,” he said. “It was originally put together to accommodate a minimum of 10 tournaments the first year that would allow us to bring $18 million dollars into our economy. As of right now, we’re at 15 tournaments already signed up.”

Mr. Andrew is encouraged by additional infrastructure that is being added to the county as well, which he feels will continue to draw more business to the county.

“We’re seeing a brand new gas pipeline that’s being built down the peninsula too, and that’s going to allow us to bring in other businesses,” he said.

Another guest speaker at the event was Col. Randy Boswell, commander of the 436th mission support group at Dover Air Force Base. Mr. Boswell noted that the recent completion of the base’s airfield upgrades will signal the return of their C-17 and C-5 planes and prepare them for the long term.

“The updates will sustain operations at Dover Air Force Base for 50-plus years, that’s how long it will last,” he said.

In 2016, he said about 60,000 tons of cargo were moved through the base, and with the refurbished runway, they’ll likely move an additional 10,000 tons in 2017. Additionally, the construction of a new hangar and a new school will begin this year.

“The new hangar will be able to fit a C-17 or a C-5 entirely, without the tail sticking out the door so maintenance crews can service them regardless of the weather,” said. Col. Boswell. “We just finished the design for the school as well – it’ll be a new multi-story kindergarten, elementary and middle school that will serve about 490 students.”

Looking ahead, DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan highlighted a gamut of transportation projects.

“We were successful in getting a $2 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration for brand new electric buses,” she said. “They are going right here in Dover and should be delivered sometime later this year.

“Next year half of our paratransit fleet will also be propane-powered instead of diesel, which is a huge cost savings for the state because they are more efficient and cleaner for the environment.”

Ms. Cohan also made mention of a proposed US 1 project reported by the Delaware State News in last Saturday’s paper.

“We’re in the beginning stages of a conversation to revitalize the Dover Mall by adding visibility off of Route 1 by a ramp off Scarborough Road,” she said. “So, hopefully, we can get more tenants and keep the ones we have there already.”

Tom Byrd, publisher of the Delaware State News, summed up the collective theme of the event when he said:

“The power of partnerships, like we see in this fantastic facility (Kent County Recreation Center), are the result of what public/private partnerships can achieve.”

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