Friends opting for remodeled lower school after Incyte’s $50 million land deal falls through

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Wilmington Friends School will shelve plans for a combined upper and lower school after pharma company Incyte dropped plans to purchase the lower school for an expansion project.

The proposal had run into fierce opposition from neighbors and later by nearby civic assocations.

In a letter to the Friends Community, Trustees Clerk David Tennent and Head of School Ken Aldridge wrote that the sale “offered us an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine our school on a consolidated campus. Before we could proceed, some contingencies needed to be cleared by WFS and by Incyte, including zoning requirements, feasibility and traffic studies, as well as community review and approval.”

Opposition from the nearby Alapocas neighborhood quickly surfaced and led to a legal battle, with the state Supreme Court ruling in favor of the school. Along the way concerns surfaced about the size and aesthetics of the Incyte expansion, which was near popular parkland adjacent to the affluent neighborhood just outside Wilmington.

“Unnfortunately, Incyte informed us that they terminated the contract because New Castle County Board of Adjustments denied necessary approval of variances which were critical to their ability to move forward with their site plan,” Aldridge and Tennent wrote.

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There were also reports that the pharmaceutical company took into account the costs of the expansion and neighborhood opposition. Incyte wrote off $5.6 million in expenses related to the purchase. There were also memories of the massive expansion of AstraZeneca followed by a massive reduction after the company struggled with rebuilding its drug pipeline.

“We are disappointed, as our plan to build a new lower school on our main campus cannot proceed at this time. We remain grateful for this opportunity and for the bold and tireless action of our board, administrators and members of our community who worked toward bringing the vision of a unified campus to reality, including evolving our plans to address community concerns. The Board of Trustees will be back in touch outlining next steps, including plans to renovate our current lower school property. We are excited to move forward with plans for the Lower School as well as our upcoming strategic planning process that will begin this January,” the letter noted.

Friends is celebrating its 275th anniversary as a private school with Quaker values.

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