VALLE CRUCIS — The Watauga County Board of Education and the Watauga County Board of Commissioners are hosting a joint public meeting on Sept. 3 to discuss and hear public input on the proposed construction of a new Valle Crucis School.
The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. in the gymnasium of the current Valle Crucis School. The school board is not planned to conduct any other business during the meeting; the commissioners will still meet for their regularly scheduled meeting that morning at 8:30 a.m.
In February 2018, the commissioners heard from Chad Roberson — an architect with Clark Nexsen — about multiple capital needs Watauga County Schools was facing. It was recommended that it would be more cost effective to fully replace a few of the schools rather than renovate, including Valle Crucis School. At that time, it was said that the current Valle Crucis School was not above base flood elevation and therefore had a higher chance of flooding as well as the worst traffic and parking issues in the school system.
On March 11, the board of education approved a contract to purchase a 14.4-acre tract of land in Valle Crucis for the eventual replacement of the existing 82-year-old 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. This tract of land has since been referred to as the Hodges property by school officials and others.
At the March commissioners meeting, WCS Superintendent Scott Elliott stated that the school system would enter into a 120-day due diligence period where it would be investigating if the land is viable for a school building. The board’s purchase of the Valle Crucis property would be contingent on several tests to determine such things as soil structure, the availability of water and other construction-related considerations.
The commissioners hosted a public hearing on its 2019-20 budget in May, with a majority of those who spoke showing support for the construction of a new Valle Crucis School. However, a few people voiced concerns that not enough community input had been solicited on the potential placement of the new building. During the public hearing Henri Deschamps — owner of the Mast Farm Inn — requested officials host a public hearing about the location of the building before closing on the property.
A website containing an open letter and petition was posted on July 26 by a few people with concerns about the movement of the school impacting the Valle Crucis historic district and neighboring businesses. 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.
Elliott has said that the primary advantage of building on the Hodges site is that Watauga County Schools can build a school higher above flood level, minimizing the risks of potential flooding. He added that Roberson 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 under contract by the county.
At the Aug. 12 board of education meeting Elliott said that his hope was that the due diligence tests and engineering studies of the Hodges property would be completed by the Sept. 3 meeting. He added that he hoped there would be a report from the architect and a presentation to the public about the proposed school and its search for land.