School district learns
Public concern shapes site process
An aggressive drive against the proposed high school on the site of part of Wildcreek Golf Course has slowed but not halted the steady forward progress of the project.
Golfers and some residents near Wildcreek felt all along that the Washoe County School District was trying to slide the site past all players without adequate scrutiny. The District slowed its pace and met various criticisms as they were floated.
Golfers held an Oct. 25 community meeting at the Elks Lodge to drum up opposition to the Wildcreek site during which they argued that the school district had failed to do “due diligence” on other sites besides Wildcreek. “The WCSD would like you to believe that [Wildcreek] is the best and economical site for this project,” read a poster urging attendance at the anti-Wildcreek meeting. “This is not true. At a recent WCSD meeting of the capital funding protection committee, the WCSD confirmed no studies have been done at any of the other sites.” On Nov. 20. the district released a report representing due diligence on other sites as well as Wildcreek.
The golfers also complained about Washoe now having “one of the highest [sales] tax rates in the nation,” but the golfing community took no part last year in the opposition to WC-1, the ballot measure that imposed the sixth Washoe sales tax hike for schools in the county, so their concern is pretty tardy. The Wildcreek high school, if it is built on the schedule the District is seeking, would be the first school funded by WC-1 revenue.
The new 2,500-student school is intended to replace Hug High School, which serves about 1,450 students and was constructed in the late 1960s. Hug would not be demolished. It would be converted to use as a career/tech “academy.” Hug’s students, augmented by students from three other high school districts, would then go to the new school. As it did during the election campaign for a sales tax hike for school construction, the District is brandishing double sessions as a warning against delays: “This school needs to open in time for the 2021-2022 school year in order to avoid possible double sessions, where the District would essentially operate two high schools out of the same building,” read a handout at a public meeting held last week at Hug.
While golfers have carried the ball on opposing the Wildcreek site up to now, residents at the Hug meeting did not raise golfer concerns so much as other, quality-of-life issues, and they did not always get answers. In fact, the impression was strong that the school district scheduled the Nov. 30 meeting to combat the impacts of the golfers’ attacks and that officials were not really ready to answer some of the questions raised.
One student asked if the new high school would be a Title I school, meaning a school that qualifies for financial assistance under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as a result of high numbers of students from low-income families. The school district knows where the students for the proposed Wildcreek school would be coming from, so it could probably estimate how many low income students will attend, but the numbers had not been run yet, and an answer could not be given to the student.
A resident who had concerns about traffic patterns and flow encountered the same problem.
Nevertheless, district chief operating officer Pete Etchart and superintendent Traci Davis fielded many questions carefully, both in the meeting portion and in informal chats before and after the meeting, with the result that many residents came away fairly satisfied.
“I was a lot more concerned before tonight,” one parent said.
But others dug in their heels.
“We’ve got a lawyer,” said a resident of the Wildcreek neighborhood. “We’ll slow this thing down.”
The District has also been proceeding on other tracks to line its ducks up in a row. The school district formed a seven-person panel experienced in building and planning to assess two sites near Truckee Meadows College, one near Sun Valley, and Wildcreek. The panel agreed that Wildcreek was the best site. An engineering firm hired by the district to make another assessment came down the same way.
Along the way, a plan to transfer the land by August fell by the wayside, stymied by resident questions and community concern.
Wildcreek is owned by Washoe County, and the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority runs it. The RSCVA sees the golf course as a money-losing burden, so it is likely to go along with the School District’s plans. Indeed, there has been smooth cooperation among the three governmental entities for months. That’s less true in the city councils, where Reno’s Paul McKenzie and Sparks’s Ed Lawson have been critics. But the councils have limited ability to affect the outcome of the site process.
The way the District has headed off concerns before they became major problems has kept the Wildcreek project moving forward. There is an array of issues die-hard opponents could bring to the fore to try to slow the project, such as flight paths and drainage, but if the District continues to address them as they have so far, the project may be hard to stop.
At the Hug meeting, Etchart said the District may make an offer for the property at a joint meeting of the Washoe County Commission and RSCVA on Dec. 12.