Ennis pool to reopen to students, public after spring break

After a winter of maintenance and frustration, the indoor swimming and therapy pool at Howard T. Ennis School should reopen April 9.

It is a public pool, in addition to serving Ennis students and hosting several swim teams for the Indian River School District. The Dr. Lorraine Wray Aquatic Center offers individual or family memberships, swimming lessons, pool parties and lifeguard certifications.

The challenge starts with the pool’s size. The large facility includes a small handicapped-accessible pool connected to a large standard-size pool with lanes used by local swim teams. But the entire facility is practically tropical, because the therapy pool and air temperature must be roughly 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Anyone wearing a full set of clothes is likely sweating after a few minutes.

The climate and pool chemicals are exhausting for the 24-hour dehumidifier serving the rest of the pool’s mechanical equipment. The PoolPak dehumidifier needed maintenance in December, but repairs and parts replacement have taken months.

Then, mold was found. With the humidity out of control, many or all accessories needed replacing, from lifejackets to baby changing tables. Despite their toughest scrubbing, the staff couldn’t guarantee equipment was free of mold.

Costs have climbed to tens of thousands of dollars, between repairs, accessories and a pool/school-wide professional cleaning service. Budgets were paid partly by state and local funds.

“Just my experience — it was completely different. You could just tell the air was fresher, better than before,” said Jim Fritz, IRSD School Board member, of the repairs. “It looks good up there, the painting, the ceiling tiles all brand new, the flooring has been repaired. The locker rooms probably look the best they have in a long time. I can tell a lot of work has been done up there.”

Hoping to save on future maintenance projects, the school board just approved a new $3,200 annual maintenance contract for the mechanical systems through Buildings Systems & Services Inc.

The Howard T. Ennis school itself needs to be replaced. Paperwork is under way to transfer state-owned land at the Stockley Center to the Indian River School District, which oversees Ennis, so that it can build a replacement there. Next, the Delaware General Assembly needs to sign off, and Sussex County must approve the property subdivision.

This summer, IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele said, he hopes the state budget will allocate about $2.9 million for planning, which should take about nine to 12 months.

Luckily for local taxpayers, the State will pay for construction of the State-owned school, which serves all Sussex County children with severe needs. However, Steele anticipated that the State will only fund a small therapy pool, not a full-sized lap pool.

With repairs completed at the current Ennis facility, swim lessons and other services will resume soon. Details are online at www.irsd.net/our_schools/other_facilities.