GEORGETOWN — On deck: Phase 2.
Pickleball enthusiasts, soccer parents and “futbol” fanatics are stepping up to the plate to support the Sussex Sports Center Foundation’s pitch for a multimillion-dollar indoor field-house to augment Sandhill Fields’ successful complex, off Sand Hill Road in Georgetown.
Soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and pickleball are the current uses for the eight outdoor fields and other amenities at the $5.8 million, 56-acre complex that opened in September 2020.
Now, there comes requests for indoor facilities.
“It is something that came up just because of the success we have with the fields,” said the foundation’s president, Joe Schell, noting that the consensus of those utilizing Sandhill Fields is the “need to do something with our kids in the wintertime. We can’t just hibernate. We need to get into something that is a little bit more comfortable in the wintertime.”
Henlopen Soccer Club president Stephanie Parker agreed.
“Having these fields has meant a tremendous amount to our club,” she said. “It has been our field of dreams … and has really been a prime example of, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ This new indoor facility is also very important to us. We are weather-driven. If it is pouring rain and the fields are unplayable, you have to cancel.”
Mr. Schell and Brad Leinbach, Sandhill Fields’ general manager, outlined the second phase of the proposal for a field house during Sussex County Council’s Tuesday meeting. Given current price uncertainties and inflation, the projected cost for the building is $6 million, with a built-in $500,000 contingency.
The county — with its commitment of a 50-year, $1.5 million interest-free loan — has been a public partner with SSCF in the initial Sandhill Fields project, which features eight regulation athletic fields, a 3.5-mile trail that can be used for cross-country competitions, six pickleball courts, a playground, picnic pavilions and restroom facilities.
“We’ve had great success, largely due to your support two-and-a-half years ago,” Mr. Schell said to council members.
Back in January 2018, County Council approved a memorandum of understanding with SSCF; subsequently, it endorsed the $1.5 million loan, which was executed in June 2018.
Under the agreement, SSCF was required to spend $1.5 million of its own before it could begin drawing on the county’s $1.5 million commitment. Additionally, Sussex County has an option to buy Sandhill Fields for $1 after its 10th year.
Funding for the field house is projected to be $4 million in private financing and upwards of $2.5 million from the public sector. Approximately $3.88 million in private monies is already committed, Mr. Schell said.
“We hope the public funding would come from you all, where we’ll ask for another $1.5 million loan on the same terms as the previous one,” he said.
Additionally, SSCF plans to go to the state to see “if we can qualify and get some of their rescue funds.” A request will also be made to the town of Georgetown.
The field house is proposed next to the “circle” area of the complex, between the pavilion, the bathroom facilities, the playground and fields 5, 6 and 8.
The artificial surface for the multiuse courts would be one that would best accommodate all sports, Mr. Schell said. At present, steel is the preferred option for the building itself, with a heavy-duty cloth-type roofing option.
If it’s a go, the Sandhill field house could conceivably open in December 2022 or early 2023.
“We think it can be built in a year or less than a year in 2022. So in winter, January of 2023, kids will be inside playing and practicing,” Mr. Schell said.
Sandhill Fields has had an estimated 108,000 visitors — approximately half from the Hispanic population — mostly through soccer leagues and tournaments. About 37,800 guests were Caucasian, 10,800 African American and 5,400 Asian American or other, according to registration data provided by the venue.
By age, the complex is used mostly by children (75,600 visitors), with 32,400 being adults ages 19-90.
Schools that use the facilities include Sussex Tech, Caesar Rodney, Sussex Central, Cape Henlopen, Indian River, Seaford, Laurel, Milford, Woodbridge and Dover high schools, Sussex Academy and Worcester Preparatory School.
Organizations that have utilized the complex in 2021 include Outtrain Fitness & Performance, the 3Troy Foundation, the Henlopen Soccer Club, La SUPER LIGA, Oranje Field Hockey, the Seashore Striders, the Delaware United Soccer Club, the Matrix Soccer Club and the First State Pickleball Club.
Ms. Parker said her club has been able to expand the number and types of programs it offers, thanks to the Sandhill facility.
“This past summer offered, for the first time, a high school soccer league. Our membership has expanded. This past fall, we enrolled a record number of 634 youth in a fall rec program, between the ages 2 and 15. We have been able to expand our membership to all across the county,” she said.
Gerson Guox, representing a Hispanic soccer association, noted the rapid growth of that population in Georgetown and Sussex, as well as the increasing popularity of soccer in the area. He said tournaments held at Sandhill Fields draw teams from all three Delaware counties, in addition to several neighboring states. Plus, a Hispanic festival staged at Sandhill Fields in September drew about 5,000 people, as opposed to just several hundred in previous years at other locations, he said.
“Now, with the indoor facility to be in Sussex County, we will be able to have tournaments year-round. Our goal with this new indoor facility is to expand the sports involvement for kids, youth and women, so we can bring the community together,” said Mr. Guox.
Michelle Steadman of the First State Pickleball Club said it welcomes an indoor venue to augment the outdoor facilities at Sandhill Fields.
“Pickleball is considered one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. It is the one sport where a grandson can play with their grandmother, a daughter can play with her father,” she said. “We, like the other sports, are weather-permitting. Wind, rain, snow keep us off the courts.”
SSCF’s game plan is to seek four bids. “I think that, in probably two months, three months, we’ll have information we need to tighten up on that $6 million,” said Mr. Schell. “Right now, we hope that is a high number, not a low number. But we’ll see.”
He added that that additional estimate would likely precipitate a follow-up presentation to council.