VALLE CRUCIS — Worries about the impacts of a new, relocated Valle Crucis School on the Valle Crucis historic district and neighboring businesses have recently been voiced by representatives of the Mast Farm Inn and others in the Valle Crucis community.
This comes after the Watauga County Board of Education approved a contract in March to purchase a 14.4-acre tract of land — also known as the Hodges property — 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.
A website with an open letter and petition was posted on July 26 by a steering committee with concerns about the new proposed property. The letter was addressed to the Watauga County Board of Commissioners, Watauga Board of Education, Watauga County Economic Development Commission, Watauga County Tourism Development Authority and the Valle Crucis Historic Preservation Commission.
The letter calls for the officials to reconsider the placement of the new Valle Crucis School on the Hodges property and build a school on the site the school currently sits on. The letter and petition was launched by a steering committee originally made up of Henri Deschamps (the current owner of the Mast Farm Inn), Lyle Schoenfeldt (the former owner of the Mast Farm Inn) and Schoenfeldt’s wife Wanda Hinshaw. Since then, community members Kathy Reece and Tom Eshelman have joined the committee, according to Schoenfeldt.
Both Deschamps and Schoenfeldt spoke at a public hearing in May against the placement of the school on the proposed property; both expressed concerns about the threat to the sustainability of the inn. Since then, Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott said he has met with both Schoenfeldt and Deschamps to discuss the matter.
Amanda Edge is a part-time resident of the Valle Cay community with her husband, and said they are soon to be full-time residents. She signed the petition because she felt that the talk to move the school happened without people being notified. She was concerned about the beauty of the area with new construction.
“It’s a gorgeous unobstructed view of the Valle,” Edge said. “To slap a building down there that backs up to homes, has other businesses right in front of it … change for change’s sake is not always a good thing.”
When asked how the potential new school site encroached on the community’s historic district, Schoenfeldt said the Mast Farm Inn currently serves as the gateway to the historic community. The placement of the school on the Hodges site would then make it the gateway, he said, and “it seems like the historic nature would be best preserved rebuilding on the current site.” The open letter states that a new school in this spot “changes the character of the area in ways that will damage its long-established historical value.”
The letter also states that the new school would create “traffic nightmares,” and would cripple the Mast Farm Inn — a longtime community business.
Elliott said a benefit of the new suggested property is that the space offers the ability to take vehicular traffic off of Broadstone Road and route it through newly designed parking lots and entryways.
“We do not anticipate any negative impact from traffic as buses and cars already travel Broadstone to the current school,” Elliott said. “If anything, we will improve traffic in the area by getting cars off the road on the new site.”
In relation to the historic nature of the area, Elliott said the school system intends for the new school to have a look and feel that is much more consistent with the rural landscape of the community than the current one. He added that it would not be an out-of-place institutional structure.
“A school has existed in the community for nearly 200 years,” Elliott said. “The current school is already in the historic district. I do not think moving it a quarter of a mile is going to change the historic nature of the community.”
Since its launch, Schoenfeldt said the petition has reached about 300 signatures. The site also offers a place for people to leaves comments. However, the names of those who have signed the petition or left comments are not viewable. The comments do list the zip code of the commenter, which identifies if they are a resident of the county, state or out-of-state resident. Schoenfeldt said the signees’ names and their comments would be made available to the relevant decision makers, though.
To view the petition, visit www.vallecrucis.net.
“Those comments say it all,” Schoenfeldt said. “Everyone I talk to that has any acquaintance with the issue, cannot understand why it would be moved.”
The primary advantage of building on the Hodges site is that Watauga County Schools can build a school higher above ground, minimizing the risks of potential flooding, according to Elliott.
As for the viability of building a school on the current site, Elliott said the school system’s architect and engineers had determined that it would be more expensive to rebuild on the current site — even with the addition of the former Valle Landing site that is now owned by the county.
To place the school in the best location on the current site, a significant portion of the current school would need to be demolished, Elliott said. An additional cost would be added for students who need to be relocated or housed in temporary classrooms. Tuesdae Rice, Valle Crucis PTA president, said the students would likely have to be bused to other locations or be taught in trailers if construction took place on the current site.
“I’m not for either of those two options,” Rice said. “I don’t think those are good options for children for learning. Most of the parents I have spoken to have the same feeling about those two options.”
Rice — a resident living in the historic district — added that saying the new school would disturb the historic nature of Valle Crucis is subjective.
In addition, if the school remained where it is, it would continue to remain on a property that regularly floods, Elliott said.
“The current site when combined with Valle Landing would have only 0.44 acres completely out of the flood plain with triple that amount on the Hodges site,” Elliott said. “Rebuilding a brand new school on property that will continue to flood just does not make sense.”
Elliott said he has heard very few concerns about the placement of the school on the Hodges property.
“The majority of the feedback I have received is from parents and community members who are happy to finally have a resolution to the longstanding problem of school flooding, and they view the Hodges site as a common-sense solution to keeping a school in Valle Crucis,” Elliott said. “I have met personally with several of the adjoining property owners who gave constructive feedback on how the school could be designed and built to minimize any negative impact on their properties.”
The school system plans to solicit input from the community on the design and construction of the public school. Elliott said that if the land were to remain vacant, it would likely be bought for another construction project and the community “would have no such input in the construction of a commercial or residential development on the site.”
Elliott added that he thinks the new school would enhance the community, not harm it. He said he is empathetic with neighbors and business owners who are concerned about change, but even more so with the students and teachers who continue to be flooded out of their classrooms.
“I can understand that the placement of a school on vacant property constitutes a change, especially for the close neighbors,” Elliott said. “A business owner certainly has the right to raise questions about the potential impact. We are trying to follow an intentional process that seeks to gather input and make the best decisions possible for the construction of the new school.”
Moving forward, the school system and the county are planning a public meeting for input on the site. A date has not been set as of Aug. 6, but is in the works.