Sandhill Fields: Turf fields, public trails set to open

Joe Schell, president of the Sussex Sports Center Foundation, holds the layout for Sandhill Fields, which features athletic fields, walking trails, picnic areas, parking and other amenities. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

GEORGETOWN — Seated in his vehicle in a paved parking lot on land where corn once grew, Joe Schell reflected on how the idea for Sandhill Fields came about.

The patriarch of the Schell Brothers business that specializes in upscale residential development wanted something different for the land he owns along Sand Hill Road on Georgetown’s eastern edge.

“I own this land, 150 acres or so, and we didn’t know what to do with it. We didn’t want to do another housing development. Schell Brothers has plenty of those,” said Mr. Schell. “As a grandfather of some good little athletes, my grandchildren, children of Chris and Preston, my two sons, they were always leaving from early summer to early fall. They were always going off to tournaments. And I said, ‘How come you are never here on the weekends?’ They said, ‘Because we don’t have a facility.’ That was the lightbulb that went off.”

That was several years ago.

In early September, Sussex County’s fields of dreams will open.

Two-plus years in the making at a cost of more than $6 million, the Sussex Sports Center Foundation will soon welcome active youth and adults, sports enthusiasts, walkers and the picnic crowd to Sandhill Fields — a 56-acre complex on Sand Hill Road north of the CHEER Community Center.

Sandhill Fields, a financial partnership between SSCF and Sussex County government, features:

• eight regulation Bermuda grass fields, all fully convertible to accommodate regulation soccer, lacrosse and field hockey fields;

• six regulation pickleball courts;

• a 3.5-mile walking trail, that includes to a 3.1-mile regulation cross country course;

• parking areas.

Other amenities include a Tot Lot playground, picnic pavilions, permanent restroom facilities and a food truck area. The complex is landscaped throughout.

“This is a great opportunity to keep kids busy, to keep them out of trouble,” said Georgetown Mayor Bill West, who serves on the SSCF board. “Bringing this to Georgetown, I was for it from the beginning. It’s not only for Georgetown, it’s for Sussex County. This is going to be a great complex that people can cherish and come to.”

The public opening will be Sept. 9. That evening there will be a celebration at the two 30-foot by 40-foot pavilions.

Sandhill Fields will be available for public use, as well as club practices, leagues and tournaments.

“We’re ready,” said Mr. Schell, referring to the four fields that were seeded first. “They have had the longest growing period. The other four still need a little bit more sunshine.”

Mr. Schell said field hockey’s preference is synthetic turf. “Soccer and lacrosse players, particularly during the summertime, are much happier on this kind of a surface because it’s a lot cooler than the artificial turf,” Mr. Schell said.

Gates at Sandhill Fields will open around 8 o’clock every morning, seven days a week. Gates will close around sundown.

“Anybody that wants to come in here and walk, throw a frisbee, have a picnic … we’re not encouraging anybody to come in here with their golf bag,” said Mr. Schell, president of the 16-member SSCF board, the governing/fundraising arm of the SSCF.

The walking trail/cross country course at Sandhill Fields features both cinder and boardwalk surfaces. This part of the cinder trail wraps around water.

Clubs or schools will be charged for designated use of field reservations.

There’s no charge for general use by the public.

“Anybody that is doing that kind of thing, it’s free. Parking is free. Use of fields is free. This is public, it’s not private. DE Turf is private,” said Mr. Schell. “Now, if you are a club, like the Henlopen Soccer Club and they want three fields for three hours on Saturday morning, we will charge them either by team or a per-hour charge so there will be some revenue coming in from the fields. But if it’s individual people they get the run of the house.”

A message/information board will provide updates on field availability and accessibility.

As requested by Sussex County Council, there are permanent men’s/women’s restrooms on site. Temporary porta-potties will be brought in for large-scale events and removed within reasonable time upon event completion.

Sussex County’s financial commitment is a 50-year, $1.5 million zero-percent interest loan.

$1.5M loan agreement

In January 2018, county council approved a memorandum of understanding with the SSCF, and subsequently approved the $1.5 million loan agreement, which was executed in June 2018.

Under the agreement, the SCCF was required to spend the first $1.5 million before it could begin drawing on county loan commitment. Additionally, Sussex County has an option to buy Sandhill Fields for $1 after the 10th anniversary of operations.

“We sort of first crystalized on this idea in late 2016. We wanted it to be a public/private partnership. So, we spent almost a year talking the county council about what we were doing, educating them about the economic impact to Sussex County that it could have and coming up with a way that they could support this,” said Mr. Schell. “They will be the public part of the public/private partnership. I think we did something that was good for us and good for the county.”

Site work began in July 2018. At time the projected cost was $5.8 million. It has gone up.

“Our original budget for construction was $5.8 million. Due to wet weather delays during both the spring and fall/winter of 2019 and unforeseen additions such as landscaping, our current budget is $6.5 million,” said Mr. Schell.

In addition to the partnership with Sussex County and council, Mr. Schell notes the welcome mat extended by Georgetown town leaders. Mayor West and Georgetown Town Manager Eugene Dvornick are on the 16-member SSCF board.

“Obviously, the town of Georgetown is every bit as interested as anybody is because it helps them economically. They are helpful in so many ways,” said Mr. Schell.

Georgetown Police Department will have gate access at night to the complex, which has security lighting.

A pleasant place

Mr. Schell said the design scheme was to go beyond a basic sports complex. “Most parks don’t have landscaping,” he said. “This is going to be a showcase. It is not meant to be just eight fields that used to be cornfields. This is going to be a very pleasant place to come, if you just want to have a picnic with your kids, and you want them out in the fresh air.”

A double-wide area will accommodate food trucks. “When we have an event, which hopefully will be most every weekend, or even if it’s just league games for Henlopen Soccer or the Hispanic leagues, they will be able to get food there, or they can bring it,” said Mr. Schell.

Sandhill Fields will provide several jobs. In addition to general manager Brad Leinbach, the complex will have a maintenance supervisor, plus initially two maintenance staffers.

Let’s cooperate

The SSCF is looking to schools for labor for parking/directions as part of community service, Mr. Schell said.

Mr. Schell said the SSCF hopes to touch base and coordinate with two other sports complex operations, DE Turf in Frederica and Sports at the Beach off Rt. 9 east of Georgetown “to try to stagger our tournaments versus their tournaments, different weekends. If all three of us have tournaments on the same weekend the people are going to have to be getting hotel rooms in Annapolis. I think we can handle it as long as we are all of a mind that we are: let’s cooperate.”

Mr. Schell says projected economic impact on Sussex County will be enormous, possibly upward of $15 million in a year.

Pictured are one of Sandhill Fields’ fenced-in pickleball courts, the maintenance building, one of the athletic fields and the pad for a seating area.

“That is the beauty of these facilities. They draw so many people from outside of your region to spend their dollars here,” Mr. Schell said. “It is going to be great for this whole area.”

“Once the tournaments start, then it’s going to affect Georgetown tremendously, because those people are going to need a place to stay. They are going to need food, and they are going to need gas,” said Mayor West. “So, it is going to be a great asset to the town of Georgetown.”

“In a way Georgetown is the perfect location. It is in the center of the county. It will use the hotel rooms out here on US 113 and maybe even over to (Del.) 1,” said Mr. Schell. “If we were down closer to Lewes or Rehoboth, there would be no hotel rooms available because its summertime.”

Looking ahead, Mr. Schell said future plans for some of the remaining property include the possibility of an indoor ice rink.

Community unity

With its central location, Sandhill Fields offers an opportunity to unite the county.

“There is a real western side of Sussex and eastern Sussex. There is a real divide. This being in the middle is meant to bring them together — African American or Hispanic players, that never would have met their counterparts that are coming from the eastern side of the county who are mostly white,” said Mr. Schell. “I am excited about the fact that this could be one of the greatest benefits.”

Tale of the trail

The 3.5-mile walking trail, which loops around several portions of water, will encompass a 5K/3.1-mile certified cross country course. It is unique.

“A distinguishing feature of it, is half of it is on a boardwalk, above the ground. It was wetlands underneath, so DNREC … decided to allow us to build up a walkway,” Mr. Schell said.

A map of Sandhill Fields in Georgetown, showing the eight multi-purpose athletic fields and other amenities.

There is about a mile and half of walkway. The rest is cinders.

“The people of Georgetown are talking already about wanting to get out there and walk,” said Mayor West. “So, it is going to be a great asset for exercise, for people.”

Fundraising

The SSCF reached out to individuals, foundations as well as the business community – hotels, restaurants, real estate agents, automobile dealerships for sponsor opportunities. Those included $25,000 now to help with the construction and $5,000 for the next five years.

All major sponsors are acknowledged with flag pennants placed on towering poles adjacent to playing fields.

“We’re pleased that we got nine companies and or institutions,” said Mr. Schell. “Most ventures like this take a couple years before they break even, if they ever break even. This one is going to break even in the second year; it might be in the first.”

Governing board

SSCF is governed by its board of directors. The 16-member board includes:

• Joseph Schell, Lewes, retired from financial career, SSCF president;

• Bobby Horsey, Laurel, Principal of David G. Horsey and Sons, SSCF vice president;

• Steve Burke, Lewes, financial officer of Dentsply Sirona, SSCF treasurer;

• Tim Bamforth, teacher/coach, and president of the Seashore Striders;

• Irwin “I.G.” Burton, Lewes, Sussex County Council District 3;

• Todd Lawson, Harbeson, Sussex County Administrator;

• Zac Crouch, Milton, Bowen Davis and Friedel, Inc.;

• Eugene Dvornick, Georgetown, Georgetown Town Manager;

• Dennis March, Berlin, co‐ Founder of Saltwater Lacrosse Club.

• Stephanie Parker, Milton, president of Henlopen Soccer Club;

• Brian Pettyjohn, Georgetown, State Senator;

• Preston Schell, Rehoboth Beach, Owner, Ocean Atlantic Cos;

• Darren Short, Georgetown, Captain, Troop 7, Delaware State Police;

• Tony Sposato, Lewes, CEO of Sposato Landscaping and Irrigation;

• Bill West, Georgetown, Mayor of Georgetown;

• Rob Tunnell, Lewes, Managing partner, Tunnell Companies, Long Neck;

Information

GEORGETOWN — Seated in his vehicle in a paved parking lot on land where corn once grew, Joe Schell reflected on how the idea for Sandhill Fields came about.

The patriarch of the Schell Brothers business that specializes in upscale residential development wanted something different for the land he owns along Sand Hill Road on Georgetown’s eastern edge.

“I own this land, 150 acres or so, and we didn’t know what to do with it. We didn’t want to do another housing development. Schell Brothers has plenty of those,” said Mr. Schell. “As a grandfather of some good little athletes, my grandchildren, children of Chris and Preston, my two sons, they were always leaving from early summer to early fall. They were always going off to tournaments. And I said, ‘How come you are never here on the weekends?’ They said, ‘Because we don’t have a facility.’ That was the lightbulb that went off.”

That was several years ago.

In early September, Sussex County’s fields of dreams will open.

Two-plus years in the making at a cost of more than $6 million, the Sussex Sports Center Foundation will soon welcome active youth and adults, sports enthusiasts, walkers and the picnic crowd to Sandhill Fields — a 56-acre complex on Sand Hill Road north of the CHEER Community Center.

Sandhill Fields, a financial partnership between SSCF and Sussex County government, features:

Sandhill Fields, a multi-field/walking trail complex on Georgetown’s eastern edge, is set to open to the public in September.

• eight regulation Bermuda grass fields, all fully convertible to accommodate regulation soccer, lacrosse and field hockey fields;

• six regulation pickleball courts;

• a 3.5-mile walking trail, that includes to a 3.1-mile regulation cross country course;

• parking areas.

Other amenities include a Tot Lot playground, picnic pavilions, permanent restroom facilities and a food truck area. The complex is landscaped throughout.

“This is a great opportunity to keep kids busy, to keep them out of trouble,” said Georgetown Mayor Bill West, who serves on the SSCF board. “Bringing this to Georgetown, I was for it from the beginning. It’s not only for Georgetown, it’s for Sussex County. This is going to be a great complex that people can cherish and come to.”

The public opening will be Sept. 9. That evening there will be a celebration at the two 30-foot by 40-foot pavilions.

Sandhill Fields will be available for public use, as well as club practices, leagues and tournaments.

“We’re ready,” said Mr. Schell, referring to the four fields that were seeded first. “They have had the longest growing period. The other four still need a little bit more sunshine.”

Mr. Schell said field hockey’s preference is synthetic turf. “Soccer and lacrosse players, particularly during the summertime, are much happier on this kind of a surface because it’s a lot cooler than the artificial turf,” Mr. Schell said.

Gates at Sandhill Fields will open around 8 o’clock every morning, seven days a week. Gates will close around sundown.

“Anybody that wants to come in here and walk, throw a frisbee, have a picnic … we’re not encouraging anybody to come in here with their golf bag,” said Mr. Schell, president of the 16-member SSCF board, the governing/fundraising arm of the SSCF.

Clubs or schools will be charged for designated use of field reservations.

There’s no charge for general use by the public.

“Anybody that is doing that kind of thing, it’s free. Parking is free. Use of fields is free. This is public, it’s not private. DE Turf is private,” said Mr. Schell. “Now, if you are a club, like the Henlopen Soccer Club and they want three fields for three hours on Saturday morning, we will charge them either by team or a per-hour charge so there will be some revenue coming in from the fields. But if it’s individual people they get the run of the house.”

A message/information board will provide updates on field availability and accessibility.

As requested by Sussex County Council, there are permanent men’s/women’s restrooms on site. Temporary porta-potties will be brought in for large-scale events and removed within reasonable time upon event completion.

Sussex County’s financial commitment is a 50-year, $1.5 million zero-percent interest loan.

$1.5M loan agreement

In January 2018, county council approved a memorandum of understanding with the SSCF, and subsequently approved the $1.5 million loan agreement, which was executed in June 2018.

Under the agreement, the SCCF was required to spend the first $1.5 million before it could begin drawing on county loan commitment. Additionally, Sussex County has an option to buy Sandhill Fields for $1 after the 10th anniversary of operations.

“We sort of first crystalized on this idea in late 2016. We wanted it to be a public/private partnership. So, we spent almost a year talking the county council about what we were doing, educating them about the economic impact to Sussex County that it could have and coming up with a way that they could support this,” said Mr. Schell. “They will be the public part of the public/private partnership. I think we did something that was good for us and good for the county.”

Site work began in July 2018. At time the projected cost was $5.8 million. It has gone up.

“Our original budget for construction was $5.8 million. Due to wet weather delays during both the spring and fall/winter of 2019 and unforeseen additions such as landscaping, our current budget is $6.5 million,” said Mr. Schell.

In addition to the partnership with Sussex County and council, Mr. Schell notes the welcome mat extended by Georgetown town leaders. Mayor West and Georgetown Town Manager Eugene Dvornick are on the 16-member SSCF board.

“Obviously, the town of Georgetown is every bit as interested as anybody is because it helps them economically. They are helpful in so many ways,” said Mr. Schell.

Georgetown Police Department will have gate access at night to the complex, which has security lighting.

A pleasant place

Mr. Schell said the design scheme was to go beyond a basic sports complex. “Most parks don’t have landscaping,” he said. “This is going to be a showcase. It is not meant to be just eight fields that used to be cornfields. This is going to be a very pleasant place to come, if you just want to have a picnic with your kids, and you want them out in the fresh air.”

A double-wide area will accommodate food trucks. “When we have an event, which hopefully will be most every weekend, or even if it’s just league games for Henlopen Soccer or the Hispanic leagues, they will be able to get food there, or they can bring it,” said Mr. Schell.

Sandhill Fields will provide several jobs. In addition to general manager Brad Leinbach, the complex will have a maintenance supervisor, plus initially two maintenance staffers.

Let’s cooperate

The SSCF is looking to schools for labor for parking/directions as part of community service, Mr. Schell said.

Mr. Schell said the SSCF hopes to touch base and coordinate with two other sports complex operations, DE Turf in Frederica and Sports at the Beach off Rt. 9 east of Georgetown “to try to stagger our tournaments versus their tournaments, different weekends. If all three of us have tournaments on the same weekend the people are going to have to be getting hotel rooms in Annapolis. I think we can handle it as long as we are all of a mind that we are: let’s cooperate.”

Mr. Schell says projected economic impact on Sussex County will be enormous, possibly upward of $15 million in a year.

“That is the beauty of these facilities. They draw so many people from outside of your region to spend their dollars here,” Mr. Schell said. “It is going to be great for this whole area.”

“Once the tournaments start, then it’s going to affect Georgetown tremendously, because those people are going to need a place to stay. They are going to need food, and they are going to need gas,” said Mayor West. “So, it is going to be a great asset to the town of Georgetown.”

“In a way Georgetown is the perfect location. It is in the center of the county. It will use the hotel rooms out here on US 113 and maybe even over to (Del.) 1,” said Mr. Schell. “If we were down closer to Lewes or Rehoboth, there would be no hotel rooms available because its summertime.”

Looking ahead, Mr. Schell said future plans for some of the remaining property include the possibility of an indoor ice rink.

Community unity

With its central location, Sandhill Fields offers an opportunity to unite the county.

“There is a real western side of Sussex and eastern Sussex. There is a real divide. This being in the middle is meant to bring them together — African American or Hispanic players, that never would have met their counterparts that are coming from the eastern side of the county who are mostly white,” said Mr. Schell. “I am excited about the fact that this could be one of the greatest benefits.”

Tale of the trail

The 3.5-mile walking trail, which loops around several portions of water, will encompass a 5K/3.1-mile certified cross country course. It is unique.

“A distinguishing feature of it, is half of it is on a boardwalk, above the ground. It was wetlands underneath, so DNREC … decided to allow us to build up a walkway,” Mr. Schell said.

There is about a mile and half of walkway. The rest is cinders.

“The people of Georgetown are talking already about wanting to get out there and walk,” said Mayor West. “So, it is going to be a great asset for exercise, for people.”

Fundraising

The SSCF reached out to individuals, foundations as well as the business community – hotels, restaurants, real estate agents, automobile dealerships for sponsor opportunities. Those included $25,000 now to help with the construction and $5,000 for the next five years.

All major sponsors are acknowledged with flag pennants placed on towering poles adjacent to playing fields.

“We’re pleased that we got nine companies and or institutions,” said Mr. Schell. “Most ventures like this take a couple years before they break even, if they ever break even. This one is going to break even in the second year; it might be in the first.”

Governing board

SSCF is governed by its board of directors. The 16-member board includes:

• Joseph Schell, Lewes, retired from financial career, SSCF president;

• Bobby Horsey, Laurel, Principal of David G. Horsey and Sons, SSCF vice president;

• Steve Burke, Lewes, financial officer of Dentsply Sirona, SSCF treasurer;

• Tim Bamforth, teacher/coach, and president of the Seashore Striders;

• Irwin “I.G.” Burton, Lewes, Sussex County Council District 3;

• Todd Lawson, Harbeson, Sussex County Administrator;

• Zac Crouch, Milton, Bowen Davis and Friedel, Inc.;

• Eugene Dvornick, Georgetown, Georgetown Town Manager;

• Dennis March, Berlin, co‐ Founder of Saltwater Lacrosse Club.

• Stephanie Parker, Milton, president of Henlopen Soccer Club;

• Brian Pettyjohn, Georgetown, State Senator;

• Preston Schell, Rehoboth Beach, Owner, Ocean Atlantic Cos;

• Darren Short, Georgetown, Captain, Troop 7, Delaware State Police;

• Tony Sposato, Lewes, CEO of Sposato Landscaping and Irrigation;

• Bill West, Georgetown, Mayor of Georgetown;

• Rob Tunnell, Lewes, Managing partner, Tunnell Companies, Long Neck;

Information

For more information, visit Sandhill Fields website at www.sandhillfields.org, or visit the Facebook site.