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.