Plans for new Howard T. Ennis School move ahead

GEORGETOWN – A major step has been taken in Indian River School District’s quest for a new Howard T. Ennis School.

The district’s board of education Oct. 28 unanimously approved Delaware Department of Education’s supplemental Certificate of Necessity and architectural design for the facility to be built on land on Patriots Way across from the Sussex Central High School campus.

“We got some great news on CNs. We have the funding available to move forward with the plan,” said IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele, eyeing a ballpark fall 2020 groundbreaking.

Actual construction is estimated at about 18 months, pending weather, Mr. Steele said.
The district, which had requested an additional $7 million from the state, was granted more than $4 million in additional state funding for the Ennis School project, which is covered 100 percent by state funding.

“After they had gone through the design phase, they did another pricing on it. They do one in the beginning and one after the design phase. It came up over budget,” said Mr. Steele. “There are a lot of reasons as to why. Some of it was the tariff on steel. Some of it was just the overall environment for projects and construction. And a couple things with the property, like $1.2 million in fill dirt to get the elevation correct that was not in the original plans.”

“We knew we were about $7 million under budget,” said Mr. Steele. “We worked very closely with our architects at Fearn & Clendaniel. They really sharpened their pencil a little bit. We had asked for $7 million. The state gave us about $4,689,400, I think it was. With that and looking at the contingency, they think right now we are right on budget and we will be able to build it without having to take any of the alternates away or anything. So, we will be able build it as we wanted to as planned.”

Projected total cost is around $49.8 million. The budgeted amount available is about $49.9 million.
The Howard T. Ennis School’s educational services are provided to students, preschool (starting at age 2) through 21 years old with significant disabilities within the Indian River School District and sending districts that demonstrate a need for highly-specialized educational support.

As of this year’s Sept. 30 count, the Ennis School housed 142 students, plus some additional students in the school’s autistic program at Georgetown Elementary.
At 92,500 square feet, the new school is nearly double the size of the current Ennis School, built about five decades ago on Ennis Road in Georgetown. The new school will be built on land transferred from the state and Department of Health & Social Services to the Indian River district.
Another hurdle was cleared with no issues discovered through archival research and geophysical survey in delineation of the old Sussex County Cemetery, located in far northeast corner of the approximately 30-acre parcel off Patriots Way.

As plans for the new Ennis School proceed, the IRSD is preparing to hold another referendum in February 2020, seeking voter approval for a new 2,200-student Sussex Central High School. DOE recently approved a Certificate of Necessity for the bond-backed $146,094,000 project, supported by $87,656,300 in state funds with a local share of $58,437,700.

Plans for a new Ennis School has been in the works for several years.
“We had received about a $3.2 million a year after it had been approved,” said Mr. Steele.

Design plan renderings were on public display in the Sussex Central High School entrance lobby prior to the Oct. 28 board of education meeting.

The now school board-approved design plans go back to the state for a review and hopeful approval.

“The state will have to approve the design as well, which we don’t really anticipate any issues there. At that point they complete the schematics and those sorts of things and gain the permits,” said Mr. Steele. “We’ll probably break ground – I’m guessing – in about a year. And my hope is sooner. But a lot of it deals with, when you go through that process, your permits – your DelDOT, your DNREC, your county permits.”

“When you submit it, you get put in what they call a queue and they take each property as they come up in that queue,” said Mr. Steele. “So, if you’re up and there is something wrong and you have to go back and fix it, you have to go back in the queue process. Sometimes that can be a holdup.”

Ennis School’s future
The deed to the present Ennis School property is held by Delaware Technical Community College.
That deed, Mr. Steele said, “conditionally allows” the IRSD “to use it as long as we have special needs students in it.”

“We have talked to Del Tech with our overcrowding about the possibility of utilizing it as an extra small school in Georgetown should we need it,” said Mr. Steele. “I know it’s not in the deed that they currently have with us. Now, they are not going to give us that property. That is not going to happen. But they would work with us. We have a good relationship with Del Tech and we’re hoping to go from there.”

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