By Harley Nefe
A groundbreaking ceremony for the new Valle Crucis School was held on November 29 at the school’s new property. Members of the Watauga County Board of Education, Watauga County Commissioners, architects, construction crew, and others were on hand to turn over the first shovel of ground at the site.
While at the event, many members of the Watauga County Board of Education and Watauga County Commissioners shared their thoughts.
“It’s just nice to actually be putting a shovel in the ground and starting this project after coming so far and seeing it from the conception and planning,” said Commissioner Charlie Wallin. “It’s just an exciting day … This is huge for the county today — to be able to be here and to see this dirt getting turned and us making progress so these children and teachers can have the school they deserve.”
This project has been long in the works as Valle Crucis was identified in a 2017 architectural study of Watauga County Schools facilities as requiring complete replacement, alongside significant repair and renovation to the district’s other schools.
Commissioner Larry Turnbow said at the event, “A lot of our schools need love. We’ve made the active decision along with our school board that we are going to do this the right way, one at a time, and we’re very excited about this as the beginning.”
The school board first approved the purchase contract for the land that the school will be located on in March of 2019. The 14.4-acre tract of land was purchased by the school system for over $1.1 million by allocating funds from the Board of Education’s fund balance, according to earlier reports from High Country Press.
Commissioner Billy Kennedy shared, “We have a plan for the increase in cost, and we’ve got it covered. We have money set aside for more school work too. We’re on the right path, and we’re leaving it in great hands too.”
The location of the property is about a third of a mile from the current school site and has been the subject of much discussion over the last few years. In the fall of 2019, some community members and business owners in Valle Crucis shared their concerns about the property and had hopes that the school board would change their minds and move the school to another location. However, the final due diligence period ended in July of 2020, and no changes were made to where the school would be constructed. The property is located along Broadstone Road between the Mast Farm Inn and the Mast Store Annex.
Former School Board Chairman Ron Henries said, “Anytime you start a project like this, there’s always a lot of things to take into consideration. We got off to somewhat a rocky start, but I really appreciate the commissioners and fellow board members that we stuck to it, and we knew this was the thing to do, and here we are.”
School Board Chairman Dr. Gary Childers read from comments he prepared for the event.
Childers said, “This is an extremely exciting day. We are here to celebrate the start of construction on the long needed new Valle Crucis Elementary School. I have often said that Watauga County students, families, teachers, and school employees deserve to have schools that match the quality of the people who use them. This symbolic act today confirms that the Valle Crucis school district is about to get that kind of school. When it is completed, students and teachers will have a state-of-the-art 21st century school in which to teach and learn, and this community will have one of the most unique beautiful schools in the state. It will be the pride and joy of this community for years to come.”
Construction on the building is in its preliminary stages and will begin in the coming weeks.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott said, “I’m excited about this day. One of the biggest questions I’ve been asked by community members is the date of completion because they are wanting to know if their kids and grandkids are going to be able to take part in it. There’s a lot of excitement, and I’m thankful for that, and there has been a whole lot of hard work that has been going into it from a whole lot of people. Just to see the process unfold and how many years it takes to get to this point – it’s a learning process, but I’m excited.”
Former School Vice Chair Brenda Reese added, “It’s truly taken a village — so much input. I can’t wait to come back here when we open the doors, and we can walk inside.
Superintendent Scott Elliott along with members of the Watauga County Board of Education and Watauga County Commissioners shared thanks to everyone involved as well as others in attendance at event for the many ways he said they’d helped further the project over the years. According to a Watauga County Schools press release, he said he was proud to be able to take part in the groundbreaking after so many years of effort to get a new school built.
“Thank you so much to all of you who have worked so hard to make the construction of a new school in Valle Crucis a possibility,” Elliott said. “We’ve come a long way to get to this point, and I am so proud to have worked alongside the school board, county commissioners and so many others to give the students and teachers in Valle Crucis the school building that they deserve.”
A second groundbreaking ceremony was held later in the day for school staff, teachers and students.