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 The letter and petition was launched by a steering committee originally made up of Henri Deschamps (the current owner of the Mast Farm Inn), Lyle Schoenfeldt (the former owner of the Mast Farm Inn) and Schoenfeldt’s wife Wanda Hinshaw.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

“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.

(7) comments

I find this petition to be a joke. It seems to me that the petition's primary objective is to benefit the Mast Farm Inn. Not the school, not the community, and certainly not the students. I find the petition page to contain quite a bit of misleading information. Most of the "impacts" either already exist, while others seem to be exaggerated. Also, the petition has been shared from what appears to be a community page (Valle Crucis, North Carolina), but that page is and always has been run by the Mast Farm Inn. I also have an issue with comments that are critical of the petition being deleted, and critics being blocked from commenting in that page.

I encourage everyone to do their research before they consider signing this petition.

“Sometimes everyone can win.”

Thanks you for the article. And while I appreciate the article and coverage. I wish to comment on three aspects.

1) “Sometimes everyone can win.” While journalism is often about conflict, because life is often about conflict, I do wish your article had focused more on the solutions we proposed than about real or imagined conflicts.

2) Contrary to what what stated in the article, The Mast Farm Inn made repeated requests to meet with the Superintendent and Board of Education. All declined. We had an initial meeting 2 1/2 months ago, a meeting I requested to try to understand what was afoot, where I formally promised not to engage in any litigation of any kind, meeting in my estimation that had gone well, and for which The superintendent and Board of Education promised follow-up. Since then no one has responded to any of our requests to meet or further discuss after we did some preliminary financial studies on our own to guage the probable impact. By then numerous people had become aware of the situation. Hence the reasoning to create a petition. Not by me, and not written by me. In fact I hesitated to join the group, and declined for months, so as to avoid the impression conveyed and reinforced by your article.

3) I am not a public figure, and ask you remove my photo so as not to promote the impression I am both the vilain in the piece, and the designated target for the community's ire.

Thank You,

Henri Deschamps

It is sad to me that part time resident's opinions would be taken into consideration concerning the welfare of our county's children and education. The children of the families that live here full time should be the only focus in this situation.

“Sometimes everyone can win.”

I agree with you! But as you know it will be the part timers and the first generation members of the Valle that will have the most to say. Talk to some of the 4th and 5th generation families that have been here all their lives and raised several generations of children and most have no objection.

Valle Crucis School has been an asset to our community for more than 80 years. We believe that a new state-of-the-art school will continue to be a positive influence that anchors our community for decades to come. The pastoral beauty of our valley has never been diminished by having Valle Crucis School in the center of it. In fact, Valle Crucis School is the heart of it.

The best location for the school is the most viable site, and unfortunately, the consistent flooding of the current site makes it an unsuitable option. Assuming the flooding can be controlled, the cost of additional infrastructure alone will increase the total cost of construction substantially. Added to that would be the cost of housing our children in another facility. Mobile units would be a possible and expensive option, but ultimately untenable, because we have no place to put them. Housing our children in mobile units may also mean we could be without a cafeteria, a library or a gymnasium for at least one school year, and possibly two. The only other option available would be to bus our children to other schools in the county during construction. Those facilities are not designed to accommodate that many people, and would put an unnecessary strain on every child, every parent and every facility in our county. No one wants that to happen when we have a viable option right here in our community ~ an option that saves money for taxpayers and gives our children the school they need.

“Sometimes everyone can win.”

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