Haywood County Schools will buy Ratcliff Cove land
More than three months after a rezoning request revealed plans by Haywood County Schools to consolidate several facilities on a new piece of property in Waynesville, Superintendent Trevor Putnam was given access to the funding that will make acquisition of the parcel possible.
“What this will allow us to do is secure property to move critical infrastructure from our Clyde location,” Putnam told Haywood County commissioners on Aug. 7. “This is the third time in recent history, but that area before any structures existed has flooded all told 10-plus times, so it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”
Central Haywood High School, on Broad Street in Clyde, sits right on the banks of the Pigeon River. Flooding in 2004 and in 2021 devastated the site, along with the elected school board’s boardroom and the school system’s information technology department.
In late April, John and Deborah Crawford agreed to sell 29 acres at 237 Ratcliff Cove Road to HCS for an undisclosed sum, contingent on the approval of a rezoning request by Waynesville’s planning board and governing board.
Some members of the planning board were initially reticent; the parcel was at the time located in the Raccoon Creek Neighborhood Residential District, which calls for low- and medium-density residential development.
The Crawfords requested a mixed-use overlay, which would allow for live-work units, financial and business support services, laundry services, funeral homes, personal services, general commercial establishments of less than 100,000 square feet, gas stations, restaurants and government services on the parcel.
That definition opened up the possibility that if the deal with HCS fell through after the rezoning, another buyer could swoop in and build a gas station or something else seemingly unsuitable for an area that is considered one of the “gateway” routes into town from the east.
The intended use by HCS falls under government services; however, that, too, opened up another can of worms — what if the deal falls through and someone comes along and builds a jail?
Neighbors who showed up to the April 26 planning board meeting weren’t necessarily opposed to the school system’s intended use but were concerned about what the building would look like.
The planning board unanimously recommended that the request be approved with the stipulation that the rezoning would not go into effect unless and until HCS closed the deal. Waynesville’s town council later agreed, and the school board approved the purchase in June.
Putnam’s appearance before commissioners was a formality; he was there to request $1.68 million of the school system’s $5.9 million balance in the special revenue fund.
Some had questioned the school system’s spending on facility consolidation when declining revenues from charter school growth and an expected population decrease attributable to Pactiv Evergreen’s paper mill closing in Canton put HCS in belt-tightening mode; however, per General Statutes, the money requested by Putnam can only be used for school system debt retirement or capital costs, not for operations.
“That’s something people gotta realize,” Chairman Keven Ensley said during the meeting. “You don’t just have one big pot of money you can just do whatever you want to with, you have certain things you can do with that pot of money.”
With a unanimous vote, commissioners approved the request, which Putnam said opens up another pot of $2.5 million in reimbursements for HCS once the purchase is made.
If all goes as originally planned, the property will bring to Ratcliff Cove the bus barn at Francis Farm and the school nutritional services from Crabtree.
“The only facilities we’re actually replacing from that property [in Clyde] is the IT department, which we know is critical to our day-to-day operations,” Putnam said. “Back 20 years ago even, IT wouldn’t have been as important or as large-scale, but it is very much a part of our everyday operations, so we want to get that critical infrastructure out of the floodway into a safe location.”
Operations at Central Haywood High School were moved to the old Central Elementary in Waynesville after the flood. Putnam told The Smoky Mountain News in June that HCS was “hesitant” to build a replacement for Central Haywood High School amidst declining enrollment, especially as there appears to be plenty of space at Central Elementary.
Putnam has maintained that the consolidation will save HCS money through increased efficiencies and said the Ratcliff Cove property offered the most land for the best price and the best location. It’s about 15 minutes away from every single Haywood County public school, with the exception of Meadowbrook Elementary School.
Plans for facilities made obsolete by the consolidated facility on Ratcliff Cove — still years from opening — haven’t yet been discussed publicly.