Controversy continues to daunt the Stoltz property

A small school in Wilmington is stirring up big controversy over its choice of temporary housing for next year.

Recently the Odyssey Charter School filed documents with county officials to renovate and use a building at Barley Mill Plaza, otherwise known as the Stoltz development.

That site itself has already seen much controversy in the past eight years as civic groups, residents and developers debate its proper and future use.

Odyssey headmaster Nick Manolakis explained that the school hopes to use Building 20 at Barley Mill as a short term home for grades kindergarten through fourth starting in September.

The school currently operates in two buildings in the Pathmark shopping center across the street from Barley Mill.

"This would be our short term location as we search for a permanent, long term home," Manolakis said. "The vision for the school is to have a unified K through 12 campus at some time in the future, but our short term focus is to conduct a K to eight program."

The school, which opened its doors eight years ago, has roughly 700 students – 600 of which would occupy Building 20 if plans are approved.

New Castle County councilman Bob Weiner, 2nd District, expressed concerns about how school traffic could impact student safety.

Weiner said that state law has given Odyssey "a legal pass" on traffic consideration which are external to the site for now; however, DelDOT reserves the right to consider traffic impact in the future should the school opt to use the site permanently.

Weiner added that the safety of internal traffic flow at the site is specifically the responsibility of the county.

"Barley Mill Plaza was constructed strictly for office use. A school use is by its very nature, is a 'change of use', which triggers county code provisions specifically designed to protect the safety of the students entering and exiting the school from buses, cars; as well as those who bike or walk to school," said Weiner.

Weiner also said that he believes it is more likely that the use will be permanent' given the school's financial investment in the site.

"County Code provisions specifically mandate the county's duty to protect the safety of students through parking lot layout and traffic flow design". He added: "The County also has great discretion to consider the visual and safety impact upon surrounding community."

Attorney Larry Tarabicos, counsel for the Odyssey School, said that he was unaware of any resistance from county council or the administration except for Weiner.

He also said that many of the residents surrounding Barley Mill are in support of the school going in as opposed to a large business park or commercial development.

"I understand concerns with the development at the Barley Mill property related to traffic – I just don't understand it as related to this one building for the school. That just doesn't seem to make much sense to me," Tarabicos said.

Regarding the future of the school, Tarabicos said that the school has been looking at five different properties – including Barley Mill – as potential long term solutions for the school, but that the goal now is to prepare for the coming school year.

"Nothing is relevant here, right now, except a one-year lease and a request for a building permit to renovate this building for one year," Tarabicos said. "The school is growing and … is going to need to find facilities going forward."

Tarabicos said that as the school continues to grow each year – plans are to add a grade a year over the next two years before reexamining the long term strategic plan, according to Manolakis – it becomes increasingly difficult to find a building that would suit their growing needs.

"For now, with the litigation that's going on and all the unknowns at Barley Mill, this building was available for at least a year," Tarabicos said.

The site plan is currently in front of the county's department of land use, where it is undergoing the approval process.

Tarabicos said the school needs to be in the building by April in order to have the building ready for the 2014-15 school year.