Ground broken on new Howard T. Ennis School

An architectural rendering from Fearn Clendaniel Architects Inc. of the new Howard T. Ennis School. (Submitted to the Delaware State News)

GEORGETOWN — If all goes according to plan, students in the Indian River School District and others with specialized needs will have a new learning hub for the start of the 2022-23 school year.

Ground was broken Friday afternoon at the site of the new Howard T. Ennis School – a $44.8 million project covered 100% by state funding.

“On behalf of Howard T. Ennis staff and students, I want to thank you guys from the bottom of my heart for preparing a new school for us,” said Kris Perfetti, co-principal of the Howard T. Ennis School. “We have waited a very long time to have this happen. The staff knows how bad we needed a new facility to provide extra great care, therapy and instruction and love that we give to our students. The learning that will happen on a daily basis in our new school will assist the Ennis Eagles to soar to new heights.”

At 94,500 square feet, the new school will be nearly double the size of the current Ennis School, built about five decades ago on Ennis Road in Georgetown on land donated to the IRSD from Delaware Technical Community College trustees in December 1969.

Initial site work is slated to start this fall, with school construction completed by spring 2022, in time for occupancy by staff and students several months later.

Howard T. Ennis School provides educational services to students, preschool (starting at age 2) through 21 years old with significant disabilities. It serves students in the IRSD and other districts in Sussex County.

Mark Steele, who retired as Indian River School District superintendent earlier this year, gestures to the future site of the new Howard T. Ennis School to be located across from Sussex Central High School in rural Georgetown.

IRSD Superintendent Dr. Jay Owens experienced the Ennis School culture and atmosphere as an assistant principal in 2006.

“It was apparent that the environment by the staff within the walls of the building was extraordinary. The love, care and compassion provided to the students is unparalleled,” said Dr. Owens. “I am excited that the Indian River School District will be able to provide that same level of support for our students within the walls of a new state-of-the-art facility.”

Among those on hand for the ceremony and groundbreaking were architects and engineers, past and current IRSD board members and administration and local legislators who were instrumental in the change from Level 4 to a buildable Level 2 for the land.

The school will be built on 32.5 acres on the eastern side of Patriots Way across from the current Sussex Central High School. The land was transferred from the state and Department of Health & Social Services to the Indian River district.

The facility will feature a therapy pool, greenhouse, playground, gymnasium, multiple therapy rooms for speech, occupational and physical therapy, a nursing suite and ample parking.

“It will be a wonderful school for our students,” said Dr. Owens, noting that the Ennis School staff played a key role, providing “insight in every step of the way.”

Ceremonial groundbreaking in waves was held Friday at the site of Indian River School District’s new Howard T. Ennis School, to be built across from the current Sussex Central High School. In photo, from left, IRSD Superintendent Dr. Jay Owens, board of educaton president Rodney Layfield, board vice president Leolga Wright and school board member Dr. Heather Statler.

Two special guests attended the groundbreaking – Robert Kelly Ennis and Sandra Mazelis. They are grandchildren of Howard T. Ennis, in whose honor the former Sussex County School for the Trainables was renamed by the IRSD board of education in 1971 in recognition of his service in Delaware as an educator and an administrator.

Born on a farm in the Dover area in 1889, Mr. Ennis graduated from high school in Dover and Delaware College, now the University of Delaware. He entered the education field, serving as a principal and superintendent and in January 1921 became the first superintendent of the Hospital for the Mentally Retarded at Stockley, then known as the Delaware Colony, Dr. Owens said.

Former IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele, who retired earlier this year, was on board during the initial process that included several hurdles, including a one-year project delay at the state’s request due to Delaware’s financial deficit in 2018.

Echoing Dr. Owens, Mr. Steele said Ennis School is truly a gem.

“As a former superintendent I can tell you, the kids and staff at Howard T. Ennis are wonderful. If you have never been there, you need to go someday and take a look at what that staff does with the children that need this type of school,” said Mr. Steele. “It is a very proud day for the Indian River School District.”