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Bayhealth's options 'fairly limited' for parking lot expansion without Scull Mansion demolition

Amanda Parrish
Delaware News Journal

The fate of the historic Scull Mansion that has stood on Dover's South State Street for more than 150 years may be decided this week.

In 1982, Bayhealth Hospital acquired Scull Mansion, which sits across the street from the hospital, for use as office space. Now nearly 40 years later, they have plans to tear it down to expand its parking lot.

The hospital and Friends of Old Dover have been trying to save the home. They are meeting Thursday with the hospital to discuss ways to save the house.

But unless a better option is proposed for expansion, Bayhealth will likely move forward with the demolition.

John Van Gorp, senior vice president, planning, business development and government relations, said Bayhealth is starting more programs and services, including a graduate school program, that will have more people visiting and working at the hospital.

When they looked at options for what property they have available to expand its parking, it was "fairly limited," and the space that was available was where the Scull Mansion sits.

Bayhealth’s plan is to increase its parking spaces from 227 to 680 on the property.

Van Gorp said when they meet with Friends of Old Dover, if they bring suggestions that satisfy only their goals and not Bayhealth's, then they will likely move forward with the Scull Mansion demolition.

Bayhealth wants to tear down the historic Scull Mansion to expand its parking lot. The hospital plans to meet with the Friends of Old Dover to see if the building can be saved.

"If there are options that resolve the objectives between [Bayhealth and Friends of Old Dover], we are all ears. We want to hear from them and get their feedback," he said. "Hopefully, there is a solution that can satisfy both."

In October, Bayhealth put the project on hold to give them time to speak with community groups and neighbors of the mansion after a petition with over 400 signatures called to preserve the home that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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The home was built in 1863 by Manlove Hayes, a civil engineer who served as the director of the Delaware Railroad, was the founder of the Dover Library and was a state representative. For the next 36 years, numerous members of his family lived in the home until they sold it to Carl and Sarah Scull in 1946.

Carl Scull served as the chief of staff at Kent General Hospital in the 1930s and opened a medical practice on South State Street in 1946. He died suddenly in 1950, and his wife, Sarah Scull, submitted the application to put the mansion on the National Register of Historic Places.

The house was listed on the register in 1973 for its 19th-century Colonial-revival style architecture and landscaping, which was rare in Dover at the time of construction.

Although it's on the National Register of Historic Places, it does not protect the home from demolition.

Some community members have assumed that if Scull Mansion — which falls just outside Dover"s Historic District —  was located in the district, that it could be saved from demolition, but that is not the case.

Dave Hugg, Dover's city planner, said it is a common misconception that buildings that are within the district cannot be torn down. He said it just means buildings within the district have to put together a proposal that goes before a review board.

No public hearing happened at the Planning Commission meeting Oct. 19 after Bayhealth asked the city to defer the hearing.

The Scull Mansion has been a focus of the Friends of Old Dover for a long time. Many of the society's members have personal ties to the building because they knew or are related to the Scull family who lived there.

Mary Mason, president of Friends of Old Dover, declined to comment for this article until after the meeting with Bayhealth. But she told the Dover Post in November that the society wants to work with the hospital to find a way the hospital can use the old building, rather than tear it down.

She suggested they could use Scull Mansion as housing for health care workers who travel from far away to work, but did not offer an alternative path for Bayhealth's needed expansion at the time.

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Michael Metzing, vice president of corporate support services, said it would cost about $2 million to make the renovations needed to use it as a residence or for commercial use.

Bayhealth stopped using the building about 10 years ago after it became "nearly impossible" to keep up because of the high costs of heating and cooling the building. The home sits empty, and the property is used for parking.

Other than tearing down the mansion, Bayhealth did not see any other feasible options, Metzing said. One of the ideas they explored was putting in a parking garage in their lot off South Street, but it floods one or two times a year after storms due to a problem with the city's drainage.

Hugg said that issue is not likely to be resolved in the near future.

Even if the flooding wasn't an issue, it would cost about five times as much to build a parking garage than to tear down the building to create more spots on the Scull Mansion property.

"We try to be good corporate citizens; we try to maximize the land we have to the greatest extent possible because our goal is to grow in a manner that does not increase our footprint on the city more than it needs to be," Metzing said.

Bayhealth parking lot expansion project won't be brought back to the planning commission until after its conversations with Friends of Old Dover.