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School District One Step Closer to Acquiring Land for High School


Two government agencies directed their staffs Tuesday to draw up paperwork that would transfer a portion of the Wildcreek Golf Course to the Washoe County School District for a new high school to open in about 4 years.

Washoe County and the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority must further review final agreements before voting on a land sale.

The joint meeting resulted in an 8-1 RSCVA vote and a 4-1 Washoe County Commission vote in favor of kickstarting the land transfer. Commissioner Vaughn Hartung and RSCVA board member Ed Lawson, also a Sparks city councilman, said they support building a school but dissented because there wasn’t language in the vote that first required the district get permits through the City of Sparks.

Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung.

“My biggest worry is that we lose a golf course and we lose a school,” Lawson said. “We should hold the land until the school district gets a permit in Sparks so we still have a golf course if things fall through. We have one abandoned golf course (D’Andrea) in Sparks and we don’t need another.”

The 212-acre Wildcreek public course at 3500 Sullivan Lane in Sparks is currently run by the RSCVA and owned by Washoe County. It has an 18-hole, par-72 course and a 9-hole, par-27 course on site and is operating at a loss of $270,000 annually.

The 2,500-seat school at Wildcreek would replace Hug High School, which was built in the late 1960s and serves about 1,450 students. Plans are to close Hug at the end of the 2020-21 school year and send most of its students in fall 2021 to the new school at Wildcreek, located about two miles to the east. It would also draw students from Sun Valley who would otherwise attend Spanish Springs High School, which is overcrowded.

Hug would then reopen as a career and technical academy in fall 2022. Repurposing Hug is necessary because the Academy for Art, Careers and Technology—Washoe County’s other career and technical academy—is full and has a lengthy waiting list, district officials have said.

Preliminary plans show the new school with a 9-hole reconfigured golf course. Washoe County would retain about 137 acres of the property and is expected to reinvest it back into the Wildcreek area.

Some members of the public, including parents, teachers, and students of all ages, spoke in favor of the project.

Hug student Maria Maldonado said doors on restrooms stalls lack locks, water from the drinking fountain tastes bad, and there’s asbestos in the building.

“It’ll affect future generations and we need to think about future generations,” Maldonado said.

Hug students and teachers mentioned strangers sometimes come on campus and that the school is badly in need of repairs. The HVAC also makes excessive noise, they said

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about safety,” Hug teacher Hilda Gallaro said.

The Save Wildcreek group is opposed to using the Wildcreek Golf Course for a public high school. Image: Bob Conrad.

Some residents of the Wildcreek area have opposed construction of the school at that location, citing traffic and preference to keep the golf course as is.

Darla Lee said she doesn’t think concerns of residents have been heard. She also said the school should be built elsewhere and that the only plausible reason for this site is that the RSCVA wanted to get rid of the property.

“It’s unfortunate that so many students believe a good education is tied to shiny, new buildings,” Lee said.

Wesley Griffin said the maintenance of green space and recreation is important.

“If this goes forward, there’ll be a legal dispute over this,” Griffin said.

Long-time resident Valerie Wade said there was significant opposition to McCarran Boulevard and to the construction of Reed High School in the 1970s.

“Our community is in a constant state of growth,” Wade said.

Richard Jay said the community should work together and set a good example for the children.

“The opponents of the school have an all-or-none attitude,” Jay said. “Why can’t we have a school and a 9-hole golf course?”

Added Hug teacher Janet Roberts, “This would be an amazing opportunity to involve the youth in golf.”

Washoe County School District's Pete Etchart. Photo: Bob Conrad.
Washoe County School District’s Pete Etchart. Photo: Bob Conrad.

District chief operations officer Pete Etchart said nine sites for the high school were evaluated. Four were shortlisted. Criteria when searching for schools is location, land acquisition, access, utilities, site constraints, and costs.

Other sites on the shortlist were east of Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) main campus, south of TMCC, and on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property north of Wildcreek. The biggest challenges with the TMCC sites were terrain concerns, including school buses driving on hilly streets in winter, along with multiple property owners and inadequate road access. The BLM property consists of no utilities, no access roads, a potential lengthy federal acquisition process, and would require extensive grading due to slopes, the assessment stated.

Sites evaluated but determined not feasible were expanding Hug, the junction of Oddie Boulevard and El Rancho Drive, Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center property, and the vicinity of Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. Roadblocks included sites being too small, multiple property owners, deed restrictions, and an unwilling seller.

The school district spent about $200,000 to conduct due diligence on the Wildcreek property. This included surveys, traffic studies, environmental assessments, and addressing issues with the Federal Aviation Administration, among other things. Wood Rodgers surveying and engineering firm predicted the school would generate more than 4,200 trips daily, although many won’t occur during commuter hours. The report said there’s no reason a high school can’t be built on the course.

Preliminary appraisal for 75 acres done by Johnson Perkins Griffin Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants came in between $1.5 million and $1.875 million. The $375,000 range would depend on which part of the property the district purchased. The district would also have to pay $2.23 million in water rights and for a $1.3 million effluent agreement to Sparks.

The exact cost of the school hasn’t been determined because it hasn’t been designed, although estimates range from $170 million to $190 million. If all goes as planned, the district will have the land by the summer and ground will be broken in December 2018, Etchart said.

“The rising cost of construction is not unique to the school district but our revenue has also gone up,” Etchart said.

Funds for school construction are coming from the November 2016 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.

Carla O'Day
Carla O'Day
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.