BOONE — The Watauga County Board of Education voted May 11 to extend its due diligence period a third time for a property in Valle Crucis being eyed for a K-8 school.
The board voted on March 12 to approve a second extension of 45 days of its contract for a 14.4-acre tract of land — commonly referred to as the Hodges property — in Valle Crucis for the eventual replacement of the existing school in the area. The second extension ended on April 30, after which the board had 30 days to decide whether or not to purchase the property.
Throughout the due diligence period, studies have been conducted pertaining to wetland delineations, well drilling, surveying and other matters. According to Superintendent Scott Elliott, the school system is waiting for a recommendation to be made at the state level to the local health department regarding approval of the soils. He added that the two soil scientists who conducted the tests were “very positive about the results.”
Elliott said that as far as he knows, results for other tests conducted during the due diligence period have had positive results. State officials were initially concerned about the modeling with the septic system, and realized that a different analysis model was required that required additional tests to be completed, he said. The state referred project officials to a specific engineer who has now conducted the tests, provided the results back to the state and shared with the project’s architect that test results were positive, according to Elliott.
Elliott was not aware of any ways the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the due diligence process for the property. He said that perhaps the change in operations at the state level has slowed down the progress, but otherwise the process has remained on schedule.
Watauga County Schools also recently learned that the N.C. Department of Transportation requested to see revised site plan drawings to increase the length of the car rider pickup and drop-off line in the proposed design. Elliott said school officials had a conference call with the project’s civil engineer, and that officials believe they can roughly double the amount of on-site car queueing capacity compared to the current school site.
Based on these unresolved matters, Elliott said the school board authorized him to negotiate and sign an agreement with the property owners to extend the due diligence investigation period that would have expired on April 30. With the board’s formal approval on May 11, the new due diligence expiration is July 30 with closing to occur within 30 days after that date.
The first contract extension pushed the due diligence period to March 16, and required a a nonrefundable amount of $10,000 from the board to be credited toward the $1,105,000 purchase price for the property. The second contract extension required $5,000 of nonrefundable funding to be credited to the purchase. The third extension requires an additional $10,000 — for a total of $25,000 put toward the purchase of the property.
Elliott said the school board continues to be patient and thorough in the investigation of the property. He added that WCS remains hopeful that the school system can close on the property no later than the end of the summer, and thereafter can work on the detailed architectural plans.
“While this has taken far longer than anyone first thought, and there were some setbacks out of our control, we continue to be optimistic,” Elliott said. “We know this is a big decision, and the board wants to make sure it is the right decision for Valle Crucis School.”
WCS appreciates the patience of teachers, parents and the school community as officials work through the process, Elliott said. He added that the Watauga Board of Education is also grateful to the current owners of the property for their patience and flexibility.
“They have no reason to sell the property except that they wanted to help resolve the longstanding need for a new school,” Elliott said.
Lyle Schoenfeldt, the chair of The Steering Committee of Residents and Friends of Historic Valle Crucis, submitted a public comment for the school board’s April meeting. The statement was read aloud by a WCS representative and was posted to www.vallecrucis.net — a site maintained by those who oppose the placement of the school on the Hodges property.
Schoenfeldt’s statement listed a number of concerns that have previously been expressed to the school board and county commission by himself and other Valle Crucis residents, including potential impacts to the historic district, the price of the property, the portion of the property that lies in the floodplain, traffic impacts and environmental and aesthetic impacts.
His statement also referred to the COVID-19 pandemic, and said now doesn’t seem like a “favorable time” to move forward with a new Valle Crucis School. To read Schoenfeldt’s statement in full, visit www.vallecrucis.net/impact-cta.