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Folkmoot Center could be a longshot as stop-gap location for Shining Rock

fr shiningrockShining Rock Classical Academy’s continued hunt for somewhere to temporarily house the fledgling charter school come Jan. 1 has inevitably landed on the doorstep of the Folkmoot Friendship Center, a seemingly natural choice since the Folkmoot Center was originally an elementary school. 

But confusion resulted after Shining Rock leaders told newspapers last week that they were considering the Folkmoot Center as an option. Folkmoot leaders say they haven’t yet decided whether they could accommodate the charter school.

“We are an unlikely option,” said Folkmoot Executive Director Angie Schwab. “We are not ADA compliant. We don’t have sprinklers. There are some significant hurdles that they would have to get over with the state of the building. And we probably don’t have the room they are looking for.”

The Folkmoot Center was abandoned as an elementary school in the 1990s, deemed functionally obsolete by the Haywood Public School system after a 70-year-run. The same reasons it was abandon by the school system are many of the same challenges the charter school would face — from lack of handicapped access to exorbitant energy costs in winter.

Schwab gave a tour of the Folkmoot building to Shining Rock representatives two weeks ago, something she does routinely for groups interested in leasing space.

“We get looked at all the time,” Schwab said.

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But it would be premature to call Folkmoot a real option at this point, as Folkmoot hasn’t gotten any sort of request or proposal from Shining Rock.

“We don’t know it is an option until we know what they want,” Schwab said.

She said she informed Shining Rock leaders that they needed to first submit a proposal of their specific needs to the Folkmoot Board of Directors before it can consider leasing space to the school.

Shining Rock, Haywood County’s first charter school, started classes Aug. 19 at The Wilson Children's Complex at Lake Junaluska. That location is only temporary while the charter school board works to find a permanent location for the school.

Shining Rock’s lease at Lake Junaluska is only through December and the school board is not anticipating an extension of the lease into the spring semester, as the assembly will probably need the space for conferences and events. 

SRCA’s original plan was to have a permanent site locked down by December, but several factors have made that goal unattainable.   

Shining Rock leaders said they haven’t yet decided whether Folkmoot would work on their end either. After touring the facility a couple of weeks ago, Shining Rock Board Member Nancy East said they need to do more research.

“When we have conversations with properties we are vetting, it's beneficial to know as much information as possible up front before we spend any money determining its feasibility,” East said in an email. “We will submit a proposal to the Folkmoot board if it makes good sense to do so.” 

Another issue for Folkmoot is whether leasing to the charter school would tie up more of its facility than it is willing to part with.

“A lot of it is a thinking exercise for us,” Schwab said. “Our intent is to do year-round Folkmoot and while we are looking for partners to be in the building with us, we are looking for partners that help serve our mission, and we don’t have that much room.”

School director Ben Butler said enrollment for the K-6 school was 226 during the first week of classes. While SRCA anticipated more students for its first year, Butler said he feels like recent “bad press” regarding the school led to lower numbers. The school originally estimated it would have 305 students its first year. 

Right now Shining Rock doesn’t know how much space it would need in the building either. 

“The possibility of eventually using the lower, less renovated part of the building was certainly discussed with Angie the day we visited, but it was all high-level, preliminary discussion and nothing more than that,” East said. 

Folkmoot has two wings — the main building that is ready to occupy has only five to seven classrooms, and the second building has 10 classrooms, but is currently undergoing renovations.

Schwab said it has no heating, new windows need to be installed and a handicap ramp needs to be installed to meet ADA requirements. 

“There are some pretty serious needs there,” she said.  

Folkmoot has the funding available to get a gas line installed for heating and to insulate the pipes, but Schwab said there is no definite timeline to complete it at the moment.  

Folkmoot also has other organizations and groups interested in leasing space at the center, including the Haywood County Community Band, an afterschool program and an artist group.

Leasing out space is a new concept for Folkmoot, and Schwab is also in the process of developing a rental agreement policy to present to the board so the organization can figure out how to operate in this new way. 

“We want to talk to anyone who is interested in space — they (SRCA) certainly seem like nice people — there’s just a lot of moving pieces right now,” Schwab said. “When they submit a request we can evaluate it, but until then it’s just an idea.”

In addition to looking for a temporary location, Shining Rock leaders are trying to work out issues with their proposed permanent site on Raccoon Road. The board signed a contract in July to purchase 32 acres of farmland on the corner of Raccoon Road and U.S. 276 on the outskirts of Waynesville, but a dispute with a farmer who leases the property halted progress. 

An environmental engineering firm hired by Shining Rock was surveying the area for soil testing and damaged the leaseholder Jeremy Wilson’s corn crop in the process.

Wilson’s lawyer, Frank Queen, sent Shining Rock a letter asking them not to trespass on the land again until Wilson’s lease was up in May. 

The SRCA board hired local lawyer Burt Smith a few weeks ago to negotiate with Wilson so that site work can continue. The board hired Smith for $250 an hour to handle the dispute but capped the legal fees at $2,500. Board chairwoman Tara Keilberg said at the time that she thought it would take a couple weeks to reach an agreement.

As of Tuesday, no agreement has been made and the $2,500 cap hasn’t yet been reached.  

“Regarding the Raccoon Road property, to date and despite repeated efforts to amicably agree on terms, we can't seem to reach an agreement with Jeremy Wilson, and it seems at this point our best option is to simply wait for his lease to expire,” East said. 

Shining Rock was able to extend its contract on the property until next August to allow for due diligence to be conducted.

In the meantime, Shining Rock has another hurdle to clear to be able to operate the school on the Raccoon Road property. The Waynesville Planning Board denied the school’s application or a special-use permit for the site, and the charter school now has to go back to the drawing board and address those concerns before applying for the permit again. 

— Staff writer Becky Johnson contributed to this story

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