Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning set to lease Nevada City Elementary building | TheUnion.com

Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning set to lease Nevada City Elementary building

Yuba River Charter School left its old digs at the Nevada City Elementary School building, but Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning has struck a deal to move in.

Erica Crane paced outside the closed-door meeting of the Nevada City School District board of trustees as the clock ticked past 5:45 p.m.

Crane, the principal of Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning, was anxiously waiting for a decision on whether her charter high school would get the OK to lease the former Nevada City Elementary School.

The school district closed the school site in downtown Nevada City in 2010. The property has been leased by Yuba River Charter School, which decided this year not to renew its lease.

Crane had hoped for a definite answer at the board's regular meeting, held Tuesday.

But the trustees deferred making a decision after reviewing the academy's bid, which was for less than its stated minimum monthly lease of $14,575 a month, and opted to continue negotiations. That initial bid from Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning also called for a 99-year lease.

To call it cutting it close Thursday night would be to minimize the time crunch factor. Crane was set to take the proposed lease, and a competing lease agreement for a different site, to her own board at 6:30 p.m.

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"They know what is going on," Crane said with a nervous laugh. "I think they'll wait for me."

In the end, Crane was all smiles after the board voted to approve a revised bid proposal, and darted out the door with a signed copy, with just minutes to spare.

Later Thursday night, the board of Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning voted unanimously to approve the terms of the lease, Crane said in an email.

"Sierra Academy is really excited to call Nevada City Elementary home," Crane said. "We've already proven our success as a high school and now we can couple our great program with an awesome school site for years to come."

Nevada City School District Superintendent Trisha Dellis said the agreement was for a 10-year lease. The academy agreed to pay $135,000 a year for the first two years, and then $175,000 a year — the current rate paid by Yuba River Charter School — for the next three years. The lease will then bump up by $2,500 a year for three years, finishing with an increase of $5,000 each year for the last two years of the lease.

Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning has been paying the Nevada Joint Union High School District $78,624 a year in its current lease.

"I know this has been an absolute whirlwind," Nevada City board member Joshua Pack told Crane before the unanimous vote. "In the long term, I think it's good for the community, good for SAEL and good for the district, to have this cost certainty down the road. In the long run, I'm looking forward to this partnership and to you being stewards of the property."

After the board meeting, Friends of Nevada City Elementary members Terri Andersen and Laurie Oberholtzer expressed satisfaction with the outcome.

Andersen had spoken prior to the vote, telling the board they had a rare opportunity.

"We have a valuable historical asset in the old school site," she said. "We have a highly regarded, locally grown high school looking for its home. We have a special small town district with the ability to offer its kids and parents a wonderful high school option to chose. We have a community that welcomes a quality educational facility into the heart of its downtown. And you, the district, have the opportunity to fulfill an immediate financial need to maintain income from one of your assets without so much as skipping a beat."

"This is fantastic," Oberholtzer said afterwards. "This keeps the school alive. We've been doing everything we can to keep (Nevada City) a real community."

Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning, which is chartered through the Nevada Joint Union High School District, functions as a smaller alternative school, focused on providing project-based, hands-on, college preparatory curriculum. The academy was initially proposed in 2011 but recruitment and funding issues postponed its opening with 80 students until the 2014-15 school year, on the Bear River High School campus. Friction on campus forced the academy to relocate to Silver Springs High School the following year, however.

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

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