JEFFERSON-Unrest just might be building in Jefferson if one local man has his way.
An opposition group is beginning to form in response to the Ashe County School System’s decision to possibly pursue construction of a new middle school next to the old Gates building in Jefferson.
Last week, the board of education announced it is negotiating the purchase of approximately 40 acres of land owned by the Dollar family in Jefferson. The proposed site sits near the newly expanded American Emergency Vehicle’s plant.
Although a final number of acreage has yet to be finalized, Superintendent Phyllis Yates told the Jefferson Post last week the purchase price is in the neighborhood of $40,000 per acre or $1.6 million overall.
Pending the results of a soil sampling test to determine if the land is suitable for building, school officials will then move into the process of securing an architect to design the school.
Despite the imminent sale, Yates said it will be approximately a year-and-a-half to two years before the property is shovel ready.
Any design plans must also be approved by the Department of Public Instruction’s School Planning Division in Raleigh.
But this week, Bryan Huffman, a part-time resident and self-proclaimed government watchdog, told the Post he is leading the charge of the “No School Here” group. He said the fledgling citizen activist upstart is calling into question the school’s decision to place a middle school in the quiet Jefferson neighborhood.
“Word is spreading like mad,” said Huffman of the group’s growing presence. “I have an attorney.”
Huffman said the “No School Here” group is built on the ideas of “conservation” and “government waste,” and said it’s calling for a public hearing by the school system to address the issue.
Huffman, however, said he was unaware that a – sparsely attended – hearing intended to solicit input from the community on the location of the school was held on May 2, but just one person spoke during that hearing before the school board.
This has not deterred Huffman, or his followers, he claims.
“I think something’s afoot,” said Huffman. “Why in the middle of town? Why in a picturesque place?”
Huffman is also calling for an environmental impact study on the school’s proposed site.
“We are out talking to people that knew nothing about it (the school),” said Huffman. “We (want to) get people to realize what’s going on and dig further into how all of this came to be and why (are they) spending $40,000 an acre to ruin a beautiful site in Jefferson that should be conserved.”
Huffman presented at least one factual inaccuracy in bringing his group’s formation to the Post’s attention. He said the district should build the new school on land he said it already owns in Smethport,but Ashe Schools Superintendent Phyllis Yates said the system doesn’t own any land in Smethport.
Huffman said he also wants to know why the school system did not pursue land available near Greenfield campground.
Yates said the placement of the school on that site would’ve created a traffic nightmare with the nearby location of the high school and Walmart.
“We looked at some property there and some of the Woodie property,” said Yate. “We had an architect that said it was not conducive to building a two story building. There might’ve not been enough room for ball fields either. That would have caused a lot more congestion with high school and Walmart.”
Eventually, the district settled on the Dollar property.
“We looked at properties and began to brainstorm about tracks of land,” said Yates. “One of the things we were looking at with the Northwest site (current middle school) that came up from state officials (was) with the water and sewer and the river being there.”
Due to updated regulations, the school system would’ve been forced to build its owner water and sewer system in order to construct a new middle school at the current location.
The existing site is also boxed in by steep hillsides, which would’ve made building there costly, said school officials.
“State folks did not like that idea at all,” said Yates. “We just started brainstorming different sites. We had told people in the northwest district that if they had property that would be suitable to build on we were more than willing to listen, but no one came forward. What else can you do?”
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.