Gus DelValle: Time to shine some light on the future of Nevada City Elementary
January 5, 2018
Nevada City Elementary School was dedicated in 1938 on the site of the original 1853 school house and has served the Nevada City School District ever since.
Funded by a voter bond issued by the Nevada City School District and a federal Works Progress Administration grant, it has been a community focal point from the day it opened. Soon, the Yuba River Charter School, the school building's current tenant, will be moving out.
For the past few months, a group of civic leaders, educators and residents have been meeting in a committee to discuss the property's future. They were appointed by the Nevada City School District. While I am not a member of the committee, and therefore barred from the discussions, it is rumored that the possible uses being discussed include residential condominiums, office, and retail.
It is now time for the community to be included in the committee discussions and considerations, with a deadline looming of Yuba River Charter School ending its six-year tenancy at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, this June.
Nevada City Elementary has been under siege before, and saved for its original purpose; education of our children. An important secondary benefit has been the rental revenue it has generated to the Nevada City School District over the years, now serving students at the Deer Creek and Seven Hills school campuses. It should be noted that the courthouse and school closure discussions in 2010 were attended overwhelmingly by a community wanting to keep the building a school. In 2011, the School Closure Committee voted that the highest and best use for Nevada City Elementary building is as a charter or district school; I assume that is still district policy.
Why are these important deliberations being held with no one from the public in attendance? Without even making a recommendation on whether or not a school should be the priority, we've heard the committee has been asked to review specific developments in private which include retail, office and residential uses, in addition to possible use as a school. If there is no comprehensive discussions with other charter schools, no serious discussion of the feasibility of a school use, and with no public present, there is something greatly amiss here.
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There is a long-standing neighborhood group interested in the property's future, Friends of NCE (Nevada City Elementary). Their three favored options with the most potential are to allow another established charter school to lease the site, to reopen as a district school, or to allow a newly formed charter school to lease the building. To date there has been no support from the school district committee for these options.
To make matters worse, the district also allowed the lease to run out on the building, leaving little time for careful consideration and making it much easier for a private developer to make a successful proposal than the groups recommending a school, which takes more lead time. This does not feel right.
For my own part, it is the district's responsibility to offer the best educational opportunities possible to the students in our district, both now and in the future. And it is their responsibility to do what is best for the community overall.
Residential, commercial, or office uses are contrary to the property's zoning which is "public." Those uses would destroy Nevada City Elementary and the neighborhood in which it resides. Nevada City needs a school at its center that is consistent with its current zoning.
Nevada City Elementary is not just a building. We are a community that prides itself on retaining our history in a living, breathing sort of way. The building is not obsolete. It has a design that fosters nurturing, and an educational atmosphere that still works today. Its interior hallways are spacious and welcoming. Its central entry and foyer make it easy for classes to collaborate and connections to be made. The old-fashioned auditorium with its curtained stage is a delight for school and community productions. Elsie Sharpe, who is an Nevada City Elementary alumnus and was a teacher and then principal at the school for 30 years, said: "NCE works best today as it always has … as a school. It is a very special place."
The decision on Nevada City Elementary's future needs to be made based on what is best for the entire community and its school children, not just the easiest decision for the convenience of the school district at this rushed moment in time.
Equally important, it's time to conduct the discussions in public.
Gus del Valle, a Nevada City resident and retired chief engineer with the U.S. Merchant Marines, is a Friends of Nevada City Elementary member.