By Nathan Ham
The historic town of Valle Crucis is soon to be home to a brand new school. The location of that school, however, has raised the eyebrows of several residents and town visitors over the proposed location on the Hodges property that the Watauga County Schools currently has under contract.
The property is located within roughly a quarter of a mile of the current Valle Crucis School, but according to Lyle Schoenfeldt, the former owner and operator of Mast Farm Inn, the property is within 100 feet of the inn and is within similar flood plain constraints as the current school that has had to deal with its own fair share of flooding over the years. Lyle and his wife owned the inn from 1996 until 2006.
“We could not think of a good reason to not rebuild the Valle Crucis school at the current location supplemented by the Valle Landing project that the (Watauga County) commissioners have a contract for,” said Schoenfeldt, who spoke to the High Country Press on behalf of a group named Residents & Friends of Historic Valle Crucis. “It would be an expanded site and we thought it made the most sense to rebuild the school on that site rather than move it a quarter mile down Broadstone.”
In 2017, an architectural study completed by Watauga County Schools concluded that both Valle Crucis School and Hardin Park School needed to be completely replaced. In March of 2019, the Watauga County Board of Education approved the purchase of 14.4 acres of land on Broadstone Road between the Mast Farm Inn and the Mast General Store Annex. The property under contract was purchased for $1,105,000.
According to Schoenfeldt, at least 300 people have signed a petition agreeing that the school system should build the school on the property it is on now instead of up the road closer to the Mast Farm Inn. He added that the group has spoken with the school board and the commissioners about the potential construction locations.
“They have been very interested in what we had to say. They haven’t closed on either property and they are looking at costs and how to mitigate flooding so nothing has been decided,” said Schoenfeldt. “The superintendent and the school board are the ones that will decide. The tests are not done so they are not ready to announce anything.”
Valle Crucis was designated as the state’s first official rural historic district, something that the group of concerned citizens feels like should be thought about before building a big, new school right at the gateway of the historic district.
At this point, nothing has been decided and will not be decided until a litany of tests are completed by the end of this month or early next month.
“The board of education continues to conduct testing on the Hodges property currently under contract. We hope to have all the engineering tests and studies completed by early September, but so far those tests look very promising,” said Watauga County Superintendent, Dr. Scott Elliott. “The tests on the property include a wetlands study, a sewer system percolation test, an archaeological study, and a geotechnical study. The next test is to drill a well to determine the volume and quality of water available. We hope to have that completed by the end of the month. If that is successful, then we hope to hold a public information meeting on September 3 at Watauga High School.”
Some of the issues that the Valle Crucis group has spoken out about include the cost difference in the two locations, the flood plain issues and having a new building taking away from the historical feel of the community.
In an open letter from the Residents & Friends of Historic Valle Crucis, it states that the cost of the Hodges property acquisition was $1.1 million and the Valle Landing site was $300,000. The letter also stated that the Hodges site has a protected trout stream running through the property and more than 75 percent of the property is within the flood plain, making the total land area of 14.4 acres seem a lot smaller when you take into consideration the amount of land in the flood plain.
“We are asking people to keep signing our petition. They can volunteer and do other things, but the single most important thing would be to contact their friends and acquaintances and see if they would be willing to sign the petition,” says Schoenfeldt. “We didn’t know how many people would rally around us but it has exceeded my expectations and in that manner, we have gotten the attention of the commissioners, the school board and Mr. Elliott.”
The Residents & Friends of Historic Valle Crucis have set up a website to access the petition, the letter and the compiled list of information. Visit https://www.vallecrucis.net/ to see their list of facts and figures.
Below are just a few of the comments shared on the petition website from some of the residents and visitors to the area.
“I feel the concerns raised in this petition are real and legitimate. There are many benefits to the community to building in the existing location along with the Valle Landing property. If the issue of ongoing instruction for students is adequately addressed I am very much in favor of maintaining the current location of the school. Doing so also continues to allow students and teachers to access the many benefits the walking proximity of the park affords and also makes moot the question of what to do about the vacant school.” • 28604, Resident of The Valle Crucis Historic District
Where is The Valle Crucis Historic Preservation Commission? They don’t say a word? They simply rubber-stamp the county’s every whim like hand puppets? Today a big cement block on a big asphalt carpet, tomorrow an Arby’s, Burger King, or MacDonald’s? Why not, and then we can put up a high-rise apartment building to suit the county or ASU? That is next right?
“I moved to Valle Crucis more than 30 years ago. My sons attended Valle Crucis Elementary and Watauga High. I worked for Watauga County School system for almost 30 years. Hopefully, that tells you how much my family values Watauga County Schools. However, we also know that Valle Crucis is a rare gem, not only in North Carolina but in America. I have traveled extensively in Europe and some in America. There are few places like Valle Crucis left. You have options and apparently good ones considering how much money was paid for the Hodges property. Valle Crucis will be changed forever if another school is erected in the historic district/center of our beautiful community! There will be no turning back; if a new school is built on the Hodges property you will have negatively impacted the land and this community will never be the same.” • 28691, Resident of Watauga County
“After investigating the particulars of the two proposed Valle Crucis sites and the preponderance of advantages–economic, geographic, ecological, cultural, and historical– that the Valle Landing site offers, it seems mystifying to me that a decision was taken in favor of the other, more expensive site. I urge our elected Watauga County officials to reverse this decision in order to make better use of our tax dollars and to show their concern for the history and cultural heritage of The Valle Crucis community. Finally, given the pretty clear prospect of heavier rains in the coming decades due to now irreversible changes in our global climate, developing yet another undeveloped flood plain instead of using a previously developed, better-located site seems imprudent, to say the least.” • 28607, Resident of Watauga County
Aerial pictures of the present location of the school and the new proposed site: