GEORGETOWN — Amid beams of sunshine, a towering crane hoisted a white steel beam into place Wednesday — bearing well wishes and messages of hope and excitement for the new Howard T. Ennis School.
It marked a monumental chapter for the Indian River School District and Ennis students and staff, who are scheduled to occupy the $45 million, 95,000-plus-square-foot facility in September 2022.
The new school is across from the current Sussex Central High campus.
“Today’s event signifies the progress we are making toward our dreams and plans becoming a reality,” said Ennis School Principal Melissa Kansak. “To say our students, staff and families have been patient in waiting for this new school to be built is an understatement. This need has been present for many years, and I am confident our patience will pay off.”
District Superintendent Dr. Jay Owens said he is happy with the progress.
“Eleven months ago, many of you joined me here as we broke ground on this very site,” he said. “Today, we are extremely pleased to place the ceremonial beam on our building, (which) will serve our students and our community.”
The current Ennis School was built about five decades ago, on Ennis Road in Georgetown. It occupies land donated to IRSD from Delaware Technical Community College trustees in December 1969.
The replacement state-of-the-art school — being built on 32.5 acres of land transferred from the state and the Department of Health & Social Services to the district — includes a therapy pool, a greenhouse, a playground, a gymnasium, rooms for various therapies, a nursing suite and ample parking.
“As the planning continues for the next phases of the process, a day such as today is a reminder of just how real and close we are to our collective efforts and plans coming to fruition,” said Ms. Kansak.
Supported by 100% state funding, the new school is more than double the current Ennis campus in size. It will continue the tradition of providing educational services to students ages 2-21 with significant disabilities. The Ennis School serves students in IRSD and nearby districts in Sussex County.
“Our students are unique and gifted in ways that are different than those found in typical, traditional school settings,” said Ms. Kansak, emphasizing that “different is not less.”
Ennis’ mission, the principal said, is to “strive daily to give our students the chance to grow into a positive member of our community. Although we have done this for many years in our current school, we cannot be more grateful, thankful and ecstatic to finish that chapter and embark on our new journey in a new school.”
Dr. Owens spoke of structural progress following his participation in a tour several months ago.
“I was thinking, ‘Man, this building is never going to get done.’ But here we are. We are pretty much on progress. We’ve got some delays … that are out of our control. But I’m just pleased to be here with you today,” he said.
Subcontractors working in conjunction with Richard Y. Johnson & Son Inc., the project’s construction manager, rolled out a clean path through the site’s dirt Wednesday, so elected officials and dignitaries could take part in the topping-off ceremony.
“All subcontractors are working very hard to bring this building in on time,” said Brad Cowen, Richard Y. Johnson’s vice president, who said topping-off events date back to about 700 A.D. in Scandinavia. “When the last timber went into the building, once the building reached the sky with no casualties, no injuries, there was a celebration. We thank the ironworkers for all their hard work.”
Traditionally, the last steel beam is painted white for signatures and messages.
“I bought the Dollar General out of Sharpies last night,” Mr. Cowen said. “It is a celebration of the building and the inhabitants that will be here for years and years to come.”
On hand were several members of the IRSD school board and a few Delaware lawmakers.
There also were a couple special invitees: retired IRSD board member Charles Bireley, who served 43 years, many as president; and Delaware Department of Education Secretary Dr. Susan Bunting, who is leaving her post in December. Dr. Bunting served various roles in IRSD, including as superintendent, before taking DOE’s top position.
“Mr. Bireley was a big part of this process early on,” said Dr. Owens. “Dr. Susan Bunting has been an advocate of meeting the diversity of our students, including our special-needs students that will be educated in this building. Each time she spoke at an event at the Howard T. Ennis School, she noted how the students and staff have a special place in her heart. And I know she meant that.”
Ms. Kansak said there is a rainbow for the entire Ennis family that draws closer every day.
“As we place the last beam today, we are one step closer in reaching our rainbow, and we cannot be more thrilled,” she said.