School district to explore options for Nevada City Elementary School site | TheUnion.com

School district to explore options for Nevada City Elementary School site

The future of the historic Nevada City Elementary School site is once again in doubt.

The Art Deco building on Main Street — which opened in 1937 on the same site as Washington School, which was built in 1868 — has been leased by Yuba River Charter School for the last six years. But that school is set to move out in June, now that its new Grass Valley site has progressed to the point it can open in the fall with portable buildings.

Neighborhood group Friends of NCE has expressed concern with the process used by Nevada City School District to explore options for the soon-to-be-vacant site. An ad hoc committee has been meeting to discuss uses, but there have been calls for more transparency and more public input.

"It's time to shed some light on the 'Future of NCE meetings,'" proclaimed an Other Voices column by Gus del Valle in The Union.

A press release with many of the same points was issued by Terri Andersen for Friends of NCE.

The release notes the ad hoc committee has been meeting in private and argues those meetings should be made public.

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The committee met three times in seven months, according to the release, with a "leisurely" time frame because it had been "assured by the school district that Yuba River Charter School would not leave for 1-1/2 to 2 years."

"It kind of snuck up on us," Andersen said. "The word was that they would need another year," because they were having issues at the site and getting hung up on construction.

Nevada City School District Superintendent Trisha Dellis confirmed the charter school notified the district in December that it would not be renewing its lease. But she disputed the assertion the district had assured anyone that Yuba River Charter School would be sticking around another year.

The school had only extended its lease for a year through the end of this school year, she said — and that's why the ad hoc committee was formed.

"We had heard they wouldn't be ready (to move)," she said. "But it was just informal speculation … that they would stay another year. It's a misrepresentation to say the district said they were staying longer."

The notice that Yuba River Charter School will be out of the site by June has definitely moved up the process, Dellis said.

"The perfect scenario for us would be to have someone in the building in July, but I imagine there will be a transition," she said. "We want to have it up and going again as soon as possible."

That stepped-up timeline has Friends of NCE up in arms.

"This miscalculation may make it nearly impossible for a new school tenant to be found or a district school to be reopened because of the lack of needed lead time," the group's release states. "Private development proposals may be the only ones that can meet this new, looming deadline."

Potential uses

Friends of NCE is asking concerned community members to come to the next school district board meeting, on Jan. 16. The group has listed its preferred options for the school site with the top choice being a lease with Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning.

"SAEL has been looking at the site," Andersen said. "Part of their program is community involvement; they're pretty excited about the site and it feels like a really good fit."

Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning has been in negotiations with Nevada Joint Union High School District for a long-term lease of its McCourtney Road property; principal Erica Crane could not be reached for comment.

Friends of NCE stated its "second choice would be for the district to reopen NCE as a district school," adding, "This could be done relatively quickly."

On its Facebook page, the group asked that NCE not be used for residential, office or retail, and that the rent should be lowered to school tenants.

Andersen said the closed-door nature of the ad hoc committee meetings has been a "little disappointing".

"I'm a fan of having everything that impacts the town being out in the open," Andersen said. "We'd like to know what's going on. I trust that from this point on, it will be an open discussion."

In Dellis' view, the ad hoc committee has had candid conversations, with no one being kept out of the loop. According to Dellis, a member of Friends of NCE sits on the committee.

On Monday, three groups made presentations to the ad hoc committee, Dellis said — Friends of NCE, Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning, and local attorney John Vodonick. Vodonick confirmed he attended the meeting but declined to provide information regarding his presentation.

"If there are others in the community with an interest, we would encourage them to come forward as well," Dellis said.

The desire for the district would be to lease the site, she said.

"Every idea under the sun has been thrown around, except tearing it down and building condos," Dellis said. "That was never discussed. … The No. 1 hope is to keep it a school (as) a lease situation."

Board to discuss lease

The next step is a lease resolution, which will be on the agenda of the next board meeting.

The request for bids will be advertised and posted and then interested parties can bid on the lease, which will have parameters outlined by the board, Dellis said.

"That is the first step," she said. "We have quite a process in front of us."

By law the district is required to accept the highest bid, Dellis said. But, she noted, it is not a given that anyone will bid, much less that there will be multiple bids.

"Next week is the time for public input, about what they think should happen to the school," she said. "It will come down to who bids. We're happy that a school is engaged. … We as a district are trying to figure out any way we can make it a school."

Dellis stressed the initial focus will be on leasing the building — but if no one bids on the lease, the board would have to consider other options.

Keeping the school building as a school is the bottom line for Friends of NCE, said Andersen.

"Nevada City Elementary school is a treasured institution in this town," she said. "It helps make Nevada City less of a tourist destination and more of a living, breathing town. Kids have been going there for 100 years and we would love to see them going for 100 more."

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

Know & Go

What: Nevada City School District board meeting

When: 5 p.m. ​Tuesday, Jan. 16

Where: District office, 800 Hoover Lane, Nevada City

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