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Shining Rock charter school keeping site options open

haywoodShining Rock Classical Academy, a new charter school in Haywood County, has not given up on the idea of building a school in the Francis Cove area of Waynesville, despite a groundswell of opposition from residents in the community.

While the charter school is keeping the Francis Cove site in the wings as an option, it is going to be looking at other sites as well.

“We are considering multiple sites and we will find a site that will be our home,” Shining Rock Board Chair Tara Keilberg said in an email.

The school was denied a special use permit by the Waynesville Planning Board last week, on the grounds it wasn’t in keeping with the community’s character and would cause too many traffic issues. However, the charter school could attempt to fix those things and reapply for the permit in the future.

The Shining Rock board was hoping to buy a 32-acre site in Francis Cove for $1.1 million. The initial contract allowed for a 75-day due diligence period, but the Shining Rock board voted this week to extend the due diligence window with the land owner until August 2016.

Shining Rock had not only met permit hurdles, but was stymied from doing site testing within the initial 75-day window. The due diligence extension affords more time to work through those obstacles, but other sites could be considered in the meantime, according to a Facebook post by Keilberg saying the school could end up at Francis Cove “or perhaps another location.”

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In a follow-up conversation Tuesday, Keilberg said the Folkmoot Friendship Center on Virginia Avenue in Hazelwood is one option being examined, but there are many factors to consider, including traffic congestion. 

Since the county gifted the building to Folkmoot last year, the organization has been open to leasing space in the building to help pay for the improvements going into the building, including a new roof, an upgraded cafeteria, auditorium and bathrooms.   

The Shining Rock board also voted this week to ask for site selection and site planning assistance from its parent charter school network, the Challenge Foundation. It has a property arm that offers free consulting assistance to charter schools in the Challenge Foundation chain with finding sites, a universal challenge for start-up charter schools.

Keilberg said the board needed someone with “fresh eyes” to take on looking for other potential locations.  

“That’s what Challenge Foundation Properties does. They identify locations,” said Tim Foley, a Shining Rock board member from New Jersey who’s a liaison between the local school and the larger Challenge Foundation network. “I think it would really help us get something done to bring them in.”

Shining Rock’s first proposed location for the school was derailed by opposition, cost over-runs and site suitability issues earlier this year.

It’s second proposed location at Francis Cove ran into trouble when a contractor surveying the site in advance of soil core testing mowed down swaths of corn being grown on the site, which in turn prompted a dispute with a farmer who has an active lease to grow silage for his cattle on the property. The farmer said he would charge the school with trespassing if they came back into the field without permission before his lease is up next May.

With the clock ticking on the start of the school year, the charter school landed a short-term lease for a spare building on the campus of Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center. The lease only runs through December, however, as Shining Rock hoped to have another site bought and outfitted with modular buildings by then.

The timetable to go from cornfield to school campus in five months has now proven unrealistic, and the Shining Rock board has not shared publicly what its options might be for the second half of the current school year.

It is unclear whether Lake Junaluska would offer the school an extension on the lease beyond December.

“The school year will not be disrupted,” Keilberg said in an email.

Even if the school can extend its lease at the lake for a few months, it could not finish out the year there, as conferences already booked for the spring need the space.

— News editor Jessi Stone contributed to this story

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