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'Decision of a lifetime': School board approves land contract for new Valle Crucis School

BOONE — The Watauga County Board of Education approved a contract on March 11 to purchase a 14.4-acre tract of land in Valle Crucis for the eventual replacement of the existing 82-year-old Valle Crucis School.

The property is situated along Broadstone Road between the Mast Farm Inn and the Mast Store Annex — approximately one-quarter mile from the existing school. The Board of Education entered into a contract for the $1,105,000 property by allocating funds from its existing fund balance — money the board has set aside over the past several years, according to WCS. The contract for the land is being made with Joy Pritchett, Gay Isaacs and Roy Hodges Jr., according to WCS.

According to WCS spokesperson Garrett Price, an appraisal of the new property was completed in January by Sweeting Appraisal Services. The property was appraised at $1,105,000. Watauga County land records show a tax value of $106,800 for the property.

The decision comes after architects worked with Watauga County Schools on a 13-year-long capital plan to update, renovate and replace some of the schools in the district. A facilities needs assessment identified a total of $99,690,359.14 for total project costs for renovations to all eight schools. Valle Crucis — along with Hardin Park School — was identified in the study as requiring complete replacement.

“The board felt it was important that we begin in earnest to make the changes and upgrades recommended in our most-recent architectural study,” said WCS Superintendent Scott Elliott in a statement. “For years, Valle Crucis School has been impacted by flooding issues. The time has come for us to take the first steps towards seeing it replaced.”

WCS stated that the initial construction of the current school went from 1935 to 1937 and was part of the Works Progress Administration — an infrastructure program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The school has been added to over the years, with the largest addition constructed from 1992 to 1995. Currently, Valle Crucis houses 372 students in addition to about 50 teachers and other staff.

Board Chairman Ron Henries said that some of the schools in the district — such as Valle Crucis — are approaching the 80-year range. He said he’s been lucky enough to have been involved in the construction of the new Watauga High School, work at Cove Creek School as well as additions made to Bethel School.

“It’s a very positive thing that happens for a community when we invest in education,” Henries said. “It’s an investment in the future. This is the decision of a lifetime.”

Elliott said the board chose to self-fund the purchase of the property in order to begin the process of updating and making necessary repairs to Watauga’s schools. While the board of education’s undesignated fund balance will be used for the purchase of the property, the board of education is required by state law to receive the approval of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners for the purchase price of real property.

WCS plans to request to be added to the Board of Commissioners’ March 19 agenda to discuss the contract. Elliott said WCS will continue to work with the county to develop a funding model for construction of a school on the newly contracted site.

Elliott said the new property represented a strong balance between several points of interest shared by both school leadership and community members in Valle Crucis.

“The board settled on this tract of land after significant consideration of several issues,” Elliott said in a statement. “This property strikes the best balance of avoiding further flooding issues while keeping Valle Crucis School within the Valle Crucis community. There are few pieces of available land in the area that are large enough to support a school, but we felt strongly that the presence of Valle Crucis School in the Valle was an important part of that community’s culture and vibrancy.”

Board member Gary Childers added to these sentiments, saying a lot of thought had gone into this decision with “the right intentions to do best by the people that make up the Valle Crucis Elementary School district.”

The school system stated that the board’s purchase of the Valle Crucis property will be contingent on several tests to determine such things as soil structure, the availability of water and other construction-related considerations. Price added that part of the 14.4 acres of the tract of land will inevitably be in the floodplain, like a great deal of the property in Valle Crucis.

“Of course, with the benefit of foresight and planning in the school’s construction, we hope to be able to utilize the land in a manner that will mitigate and work around any possible issues,” Price said. “We will work through and consider fully any issues as they present themselves.”

WCS has not started on any planning or design phases for future construction of a potential new school building. WCS stated no decision had been made on what will be done with the current school property.

Man charged following alleged altercation with deputies

DEEP GAP — A 26-year-old man was arrested and charged after injuring two Watauga County Sheriff’s Office deputies during an altercation on March 9.

Tylar Chase Watson, of 135 South Pine Run Road, Boone, was arrested and charged with drug violations, assault of an officer, felony malicious conduct by a prisoner, resisting arrest and damage to property.

According to a WCSO shift report, deputies responded to a call in reference to Watson being violent toward the initial caller. Watson had left the residence by the time deputies had arrived and was in the 200 block of Flowers Branch Road.

As the deputies were speaking with Watson, he became “irate” and came at deputies with a pipe, according to the shift report. WCSO Capt. Kelly Redmon said the pipe was metal and was three feet long and two and a half inches around.

Redmon said Watson was armed with the pipe and eventually dropped the item after officers gave commands to drop the pipe. He then fought with the officers while he was being taken into custody.

“The subject was subdued after a few minutes of a physical altercation,” according to the shift report. The shift report also states that the deputies were in a two-way radio dead spot and could not be heard calling for assistance.

Watauga Medics were called to the scene to assist the deputies and Watson with some injuries. Redmon said the deputies had knee injuries and scrapes from the incident. He also noted that Watson attempted to bite the officers.

Watson was treated for a laceration to his foot. Redmon said officers aren’t sure how the laceration happened but presume it occurred prior to the deputies’ arrival, as Watson was reportedly wearing only one boot when officers located him.

Watson was issued a $50,000 secured bond and an April 12 court date, according to the arrest report.

Sheriff Len Hagaman said WCSO deputies are encountering more people with weapons. Redmon clarified that this takes place in general, not just on calls. Redmon said weapons range from guns, knives and in this case, a metal pipe.

Board of Elections tables proposal for voting location changes

BOONE — With a vote of four to one, discussion about the potential move of two precinct voting locations was tabled on March 12 by the Watauga County Board of Elections until a later meeting.

The meeting was the first for the new five-member board. Before the previous election boards were disbanded in December 2018 following an October 2018 court order declaring the state election board makeup unconstitutional, the county boards had four members — two Democrats and two Republicans.

The Watauga elections office announced on March 8 that Jane Ann Hodges was selected by Gov. Roy Cooper as the new chairwoman of the Watauga County Board of Elections. Alongside Hodges on the board are Democrats Marvin Williamsen and Matthew Walpole and Republicans Nancy Owen and Eric Eller. Hodges, a Democrat, gives the board a 3-2 Democratic edge. The five members were sworn into their roles at the beginning of the March 12 meeting.

Eller, Owen and Hodges served on the Watauga elections board throughout 2018. Williamsen was appointed to the previous board in October 2018. Owen and Hodges both served as chairs, as stipulated by the previous law that rotated the board chair from a Democrat to a Republican.

The board then discussed a resolution to move the Election Day polling place in the Boone 2 precinct from Appalachian State University’s Legends’ club on Hardin Street to the ASU Plemmons Student Union on Howard Street. This resolution and another to move the New River 3 precinct Election Day voting location from Mount Vernon Baptist Church on Bamboo Road to the National Guard Armory on Hunting Hills Lane were proposed by Hodges.

Hodges stated the reason for the Boone 2 precinct proposal was because the Legends location is prone to flooding, and suggested that the student union was better suited for the polling place. She then made a motion for the approval of the resolution.

However, Williamsen suggested tabling the discussion after Eller stated that approving both resolutions now would be counterintuitive. Eller said the state could be imposing new precincts on the county in the next several months, and did not want to approve the proposed resolutions until state decisions were made.

Eller added that it could be confusing to voters to tell them about the voting place changes only to change it again later if mandated by the state. With Boone 2 having approximately 3,941 voters and New River 3 with 3,657 voters, Eller calculated some of the costs associated with notifying voters of the change. Some of the figures he used were 52 cents per voter to send out a notification card, money associated with election staff time and other costs for postage.

“This undercuts every argument we have to make before the county commission on the budget,” Eller said. “It makes utterly no sense at this point in time from a practical standpoint. It’s a waste of time and a waste of money.”

Before the resolution for the New River 3 resolution was discussed, Eller, Williamsen, Owens and Walpole voted to table the motion until at least a May meeting. Hodges voted against this idea.

Hodges said she feels that now is the time, as far as work load in the elections office, to do these such changes. She said now is a slower time in the elections office and would give staff more time to accommodate for the changes.

In 2018, Hodges, proposed similar resolutions for Boone 2 and New River 3 precincts that failed along 2-2 party-line votes in July and August 2018, respectively.

Watauga County Board of Elections Executive Director Matthew Snyder said the county should have information from the state on any precinct changes no later than May. The county elections board would then have until July 5 to pick polling sites within the parameters set by the state. Hodges mentioned potentially hosting board work sessions to plan for polling sites if there are changes set by the state.

Missing Boone man found dead from hypothermia

BOONE — A man reported missing from the Green Briar Road area the evening of Friday, March 8, was found dead in the area of Bradford Park Saturday morning, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office said.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Examiner Patrick Lantz said his office conducted an examination on March 11 on John Taylor Adams, 70, of Boone. Preliminary results determined the cause of death to be hypothermia. Lantz said Adams was known to have medical issues with hypertension and dementia. These issues could have contributed to the situation, although he could not say for sure.

WSCO was notified of a missing person, from a home on Green Briar Road at approximately 7 p.m. March 8, and a silver alert was issued for Adams the same day. Upon further investigation it was determined that Adams was last seen around 3:30 a.m. March 8.

The sheriff’s office, Watauga County Emergency Management and Boone Fire Department conducted a search throughout the night of the immediate area around Green Briar, extending to Bamboo Road and U.S. 421. ASU Police and ASU Emergency Management assisted in the search by utilizing their drone with enhanced optical capabilities.

The WCSO received a call for a man down at Bluebird Lane in Boone at approximately 7 a.m. Saturday, March 9. According to a WCSO shift report, emergency management personnel were formulating a search plan for the day when Adams was found unresponsive on the porch of a Bradford Trailer Park residence. He was then pronounced deceased.

According to a WCSO shift report, deputies were told that Adams was released from the telemetry unit at Watauga Medical Center earlier in the day on March 8.