[caption id="attachment_218814" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Stacy Downing, chief administrator of Delaware State University Downtown, the successor to Wesley College in Dover, poses on the campus. She is leading the new use by the HBCU of the longtime private school. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CARLOS HOLMES/DSU[/caption]
DOVER — When Delaware State University President Tony Allen signed the official paperwork on June 30, triumphant applause broke out, with senators, college and county officials celebrating the end of a year-long process to acquire Wesley College.But for Stacy Downing, she knew the work — her work— was just beginning.“I even got caught up in the moment at the time. It’s like, turn the lights off. July 1, turn the lights on and you almost expected magic,” Downing told the Delaware Business Times. “You can think through things and have a picture of what it will be, but when that day came, we had a lot of work to do.”Downing was elevated to chief administrator of DSU Downtown right when the Wesley merger closed, leaving her to chart the course of the future of the 50-acre campus right in the heart of downtown Dover. When the deal was done, DSU acquired its six residence halls, eight academic buildings, nine athletic fields and complexes, small unimproved lots of land, the former Dover public library on South State Street, as well as retaining full ownership of the Schwartz Center.
[caption id="attachment_218815" align="alignright" width="400"] DSU has committed at least $15 million toward renovations of the former Wesley College. | DBT PHOTO BY ERIC CROSSAN[/caption]
Allen has committed $15 million to renovate the DSU Downtown campus in the next three years, and Downing and the DSU administration are working on a master plan for the campus, mapping its growth in the next two decades. The master plan will be presented to the Board of Trustees for review come March.In the meantime, Downing sees progress every day at her office off State Street. In the past seven months, she’s walked through dorms that need a fresh coat of paint and watched as maintenance staff fill dumpsters parked outside offices.“I keep joking, I have no magic wand to wave around the place to make it how I envision,” she said with a laugh. “But the journey has been exciting, and it’s about taking it in stride and not letting the excitement of what could be overtaken the intentional planning we have to do.”When the former Wesley College ownership was officially signed over — on day one — there were 20 buildings to evaluate and prep for classes 10 weeks away. With DSU’s enrollment recording its largest student body to date with 5,649 students and a need for student housing, there were two top priorities: relocate the DSU College of Health and Behavioral Science and ensure the residence halls were ready for some students.Two residence halls were in solid shape, and about 134 students lived in them for the fall 2021 semester, leaving the six residence halls. Downing believes that the unused four are in good shape, barring a cleanout and a fresh coat of paint.Instead, most of the renovations this year were focused on the former Budd Hall, to house the Social Work and Psychology Departments, while the Public and Allied Health Department moved to Johnston Hall, which is three blocks from the DSU Downtown campus.In all, 70 courses had been moved to DSU Downtown under the umbrella of Wesley College of Health and Behavioral Sciences. Some students had been shuttled from the main campus.“Originally, we had no intention of making that one of the first places to do renovations, but it’s where the bulk of the staff and faculty would be teaching on campus,” Downing said. “I have been given the charge to make sure our residence halls are ready soon because we want to be at capacity and we’re expecting more courses to be taught here in the spring.”On an athletic front, DSU plans to move its intercollegiate baseball, soccer and lacrosse teams and their competitive operations to the DSU Downtown Miller Athletics Complex over the next year. The multipurpose stadium and the softball field will also be used by DSU’s early college high school football and softball teams.One of the biggest challenges Allen and Downing may face in the next three years as DSU Downtown takes shape is how to connect the two campuses. The DSU main campus is almost twice the size of the downtown one, but separated by nearly 2 miles of a highway.“It’s almost like the main campus is your typical campus, and DSU Downtown can be prime for community engagement,” Downing said. “The DSU Downtown identity is going to bill itself as being a college campus that's truly engaged in grassroots community engagement and becoming a tangible resource. We don’t want people to assume there’s invisible walls around us.”Future collaboration may mean becoming a research center for Kent County, or working to create more draws for the DSU students to travel to the shopping district. The DSU administration team has held meetings with many of the local faith leaders, the Dover Police Department, Dover city officials and more over the past few months. When Downing walks around campus and spots a curious onlooker, she invites them in to take a peek of the renovation process.But as she looks to the future, Downing hopes that she can serve as a uniting force for both DSU and Dover, but always keeping the student community in mind for what lies ahead.“There’s different communities surrounding this campus, and I hope to be a bridge. I don’t know how I’ll get there, and it’ll take a couple of years but I have to be intentional and keep the students at the center of all the decisions made,” she said.
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