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Excitement, Questions Surround Plans For New High School at Wildcreek

By Carla O'Day
School District Chief Operating Officer Pete Etchart fielded numerous questions about the plan to build a new high school at the Wildcreek Golf Course. Image: Bob Conrad.

School District Chief Operating Officer Pete Etchart fielded numerous questions about the plan to build a new high school at the Wildcreek Golf Course. Image: Bob Conrad.

By Carla O’Day

The future of the Wildcreek Golf Course and plans for a new high school there in four years were debated Monday as local politicians and the public voiced support, along with concern, for the tentative project.

The Washoe County Commission, Reno and Sparks city councils, Washoe County School District board of trustees, and Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority held a joint meeting to hear ideas about the project. The county, cities, and school board agreed to a letter of intent to work together to start the process, although many said questions needed to be answered.

RSCVA, which had four of nine board members in attendance, didn’t have a quorum but plan to discuss the matter at its meeting later this month.

Traffic, losing much of a convenient golfing facility, and potentially being non-compliant with Federal Aviation Administration guidelines while on the flight path to Reno-Tahoe International Airport, were among concerns.

Wildcreek Golf Course, 3500 Sullivan Lane in Sparks, is currently run by the RSCVA but the county plans to take over operations in July. There’s an 18-hole, par-72 course and a 9-hole, par-27 course on site. The golf course operates at an approximate loss of $200,000 annually.

“Sullivan Lane is a two-lane road,” County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung said. “The geometry at that intersection with McCarran will have to look dramatically different.”

Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung.

Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung.

Hartung likened this to daily congestion on Eagle Canyon Road, a two-lane, mostly residential street that contains Spanish Springs High School and Shaw Middle School.

“You can’t make that mistake again,” Hartung said.

Sparks City Councilman Ed Lawson agreed, noting the construction at Pyramid Way and North McCarran Boulevard—which took four years to get approved—could be obsolete soon after it’s done. He was also concerned the RSCVA, which has several new board members, hadn’t been briefed before the meeting.

“I’m not against the school but not enough work has been done,” said Lawson, also vice chairman of the RSCVA board. “It was disingenuous not to talk to the RSCVA first.”

Tentative plans are for the Washoe County School District to purchase a portion of the approximately 200-acre Wildcreek property at market value from Washoe County and the county would then use the money to reinvest in the Wildcreek area.

The high school would likely go on the current 9-hole course and on part of the 18-hole course. A reconfigured 9-hole course to serve the area in the future has been suggested. Proposals for the area also include a performing arts center, community center, swimming pool, tennis courts, a preschool, and outdoor learning center.

Golf will continue until late 2018, when ground is expected to be broken for the new school, which hasn’t been named but will house about 2,500 students.

Councilman Paul McKenzie

Reno City Councilman Paul McKenzie said there’s been a recent attack on public golfing facilities and that middle- to low-income golfers are bearing the brunt of it. The Rosewood Lakes and Brookside golf courses are among those that have closed in recent years, he said.

“I support building new schools but not at the cost of the rest of the community,” McKenzie said.

County Commissioner Bob Lucey said this project lends itself to more than golfing.

“Schools are the backbone of economic development,” Lucey said. “Golf isn’t going away with this. It may be reduced, but it’s not going away. Sports programming is on the rise. We want to continue to see these projects move forward and see more regional effort.”

Wildcreek area resident John Hesse said the golf course should stay as it is under county control. He said he and the Save Wildcreek group oppose a high school in that location.

“The high school should be on the corner of Oddie Boulevard and El Rancho (Drive),” Hesse said. “There would be more ingress and egress.”

City, county and school board officials heard a proposal from the school district to build a new high school at the Wildcreek Golf Course location. Nine holes at the course would remain. Image: Bob Conrad.

School district chief operating officer Pete Etchart said high schools need at least 60 acres of land, which isn’t easy to find in urban areas. The district has also been having discussions with the Nevada Department of Transportation, city of Sparks, and Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority regarding traffic, he said.

Hartung asked Etchart if the district has looked at re-purposing vacant buildings to use as schools.

Etchart said the district has looked at existing facilities, but locations of old big-box stores are too often located on arterial roads unsuitable for schools and school buses. Also, he said the cost of retrofitting such structures to meet educational specifications, while bringing buildings up to code, would cost about the same as building a new facility.

“We’ve looked at those options,” Etchart said. “But we didn’t see it feasible going forward.”

The new school would replace Hug High School, 2880 Sutro St., a comprehensive high school built in the late 1960s that serves about 1,450 students.

Wildcreek Golf Course

Wildcreek Golf Course. Image: Carla O’Day

Plans are to close Hug in spring 2021 and send most students to the new school at Wildcreek, located 1.8 miles to the east. It would also draw from Sparks, Reed, and Spanish Springs high schools. Hug would then reopen as a career and technical academy in fall 2022.

Although the Academy for Arts, Careers and Technology is a similar school already operating in the industrial area of southeast Reno, it’s at capacity and the district is having to turn students away.

Renee Martin, a 2004 Hug graduate, said the urban core deserves a new school. She recalled the opening of North Valleys High School in 2001 and said Hug’s demographics have changed over the years as affluent families have been zoned for newer schools built in the suburbs.

“It’s hard to watch half your community go to a new school while you’re left somewhere that’s falling apart,” Martin said.

Funds for school construction to alleviate crowding are coming from November’s 0.54 percent voter-approved sales tax increase. Such dollars can go only toward construction of and refurbishing of facilities. This money cannot be used for teacher or administrator salaries or other school operations.

The first project made possible as part of WC-1 is a $10.7 million expansion of Damonte Ranch High School, which broke ground in March and will consist of 22 new classrooms totaling 36,000 square feet.

Also underway are plans for an elementary school in the South Meadows area to open in fall 2019. Middle schools in Sun Valley and Spanish Springs are also expected then.

The Washoe County School District Infrastructure plan: http://wcsdbuilding.com.

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