Some of Sussex County’s most vulnerable students are on their way to getting a better school building. Although administered by the Indian River School District, the Howard T. Ennis School is a countywide school, serving young people with significant cognitive delays, up to age 21.
Although filled with dedicated staff, the actual building is showing its age, located in an aging building on land currently borrowed from Delaware Technical Community College.
In 2018, the State gave the IRSD $3 million to begin designing a replacement Howard T. Ennis.
This month, Fearn-Clendaniel Architects of Wilmington showed the IRSD school board the first draft of that design — a schematic that must be submitted to the State for approval. That would allow the IRSD to continue designing and making changes. But, for now, “This is conceptual design phase,” said Ken Fearn. “We worked very closely with staff at Howard T. Ennis [to consider] the space in the program and how they relate to each other.”
Generally, the proposed new building is shaped like a sideways letter I, with a long central hallway and wings on both ends. It would be located across the street from Sussex Central High School, on Patriots Way, south of Georgetown.
The hallways wouldn’t have the smooth lines of a traditional school. Instead of squarely facing the hallway, the classrooms are tipped at an angle, so the halls are filled with almost jagged corners. That’s intentional, because hallways are often used for storage, with areas used to stash a wheelchair or other equipment, said Joe Booth, IRSD supervisor of buildings and grounds. In the new design, that extra equipment won’t block traffic.
They also discussed safety features, bus parking and multiple, age-appropriate playgrounds.
They even proposed a traditional storefront for the Indian River Eagle Company, where older students run an on-site silk-screening and embroidery shop (details at http://he.irsd.net/our_school/transition_services/our_transition_program).
Details about color and materials and other variations can be decided later.
Meanwhile, Ennis’s existing Georgetown property will revert back to the neighboring community college when the building is no longer used for Ennis.
Ennis will abandon its large — and peevish — swimming pool, which has served local swim teams for decades in the Dr. Lorraine Wray Aquatic Center. But they’ll still install a therapy pool for handicapped children. It’s wheelchair-accessible and heated to near body temperature.
IRSD administrators have been working toward the plan for about three years. Stepping slowly past the red tape, they have worked toward acquiring property from the Department of Health & Social Services, which owns the undeveloped land at the Stockley Center. With this week’s approval from the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), Sussex County can now consider a request to subdivide the parcel
That plan saves Delaware taxpayers a lot of money that would otherwise go to purchase real estate, since it’s already State-owned land.
Because the State pays 100 percent of the costs for special schools, Ennis only requires State approval for construction, not a public referendum.
By Laura Walter