Wesley moves closer to acquiring Dover’s old library building

DOVER – Wesley College President Robert E. Clark II envisions the old vacant Dover Public Library building as the next big opportunity for the school and the city of Dover to meld together.

President Clark said the former Dover Public Library building on South State Street is a perfect match for a future Wesley College state-of-the-art educational facility dedicated to the teaching and training in health science – in particular, occupational therapists – and other high-demand fields of study.

So President Clark unveiled a proposal before the Council Committee of the Whole at City Hall Council Chambers on Tuesday night to have ownership of the old library building transferred to the college, saying it will relieve the city of associated costs of the building and ensure that a vacant building with limited parking is put to productive use.

Robert Clark

Robert Clark

The Council Committee of the Whole voted unanimously to push the library transfer to another deliberation before City Council at its next meeting. Between Tuesday night and the next council meeting, city officials will receive a complete appraisal of the old library building.

To President Clark, and most members of the Council of the Whole, the proposal makes perfect sense.

“I’ve been [in Dover] for about a year and the President’s House is right across the street [from the old library] and I’ve noticed this empty building and my thought was, ‘We’ve got this incredible campus with unbelievable faculty, students and staff and this incredible community … how can we partner to provide those opportunities for our future while also providing that prosperity and growth for the city?’” President Clark said. “That was it.”

Dover opened its new $20.8 million library at 35 Loockerman Plaza in September 2012 because it needed more space for resources, books, technology and meeting rooms.

The State Street property has stood vacant ever since.

“I’m very supportive of this effort,” said City Council President Tim Slavin. “There is no other plan for this building and there hasn’t been any other plan over the last several years.”

Wesley estimates the total projected cost of renovation and retrofit for the old library will be more than $2 million.

The Becker Morgan and Allen and Shariff Engineering firms, commissioned by Wesley, found the location will need substantial upgrades to its building systems, fire suppression and Americans with Disabilities Act, to be brought up to codes and to meet basic expectations of a modern work environment.

The baseline cost for systems upgrades alone is estimated to cost $310,000 for mechanical systems, $142,000 for the electrical system and $163,000 for plumbing.

In addition, fire suppression and ADA requirements will add an additional $300,000 to $400,000, resulting in around $1 million to bring the facility to code.

An additional $1 million will be required for the renovation and retrofit of the building for educational purposes, such as classrooms, labs, etc.

Sens. Colin Bonini (R) and Brian Bushweller (D) were both at Tuesday night’s meeting to lend their support to Wesley College, which contributes around $86 million to the economy of Kent County.

“I’m very supportive of the proposal and the reason is I’ve always had as a primary concern economic development,” Sen. Bushweller said. “When you think about it, one of the major industries in Dover is higher education.

“Between Delaware State, Wesley, DelTech and Wilmington University, they provide a huge amount of economic vitality and hundreds and hundreds of jobs for people in and around Dover.”

Sen. Bonini said the transfer will take the building off taxpayers’ rolls, which is an added bonus.

“I think it is a win-win and I think it’s going to drive economic development, it’s going to repurpose a building that is for all practical purposes abandoned and it’s going to expand educational opportunities for Delawareans,” said Sen. Bonini. “I’m very excited about it.”

The number of students who will utilize the new facility annually is estimated to be in excess of 500.

Officials said the college would not be eligible for significant revenue streams upon which it would depend for the renovation if it did not own the facility outright, which makes the transfer of the building vital.

There is no immediate timeline for the project, as various faculty chairs need to have time to lay out their plans for the facility.

“Here’s a building that will allow the educational arm of our community to use to educate our future, that future that will then come back and be the health care professionals, or the teachers, or the coaches,” President Clark said.

“I’m very excited about this because it provides opportunities for our future, our young men and women, but more importantly it provides an opportunity for our community and I truly believe that we are one team, we are one family and we all have one future, and that’s together.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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