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A school in limbo

Rene ShadforthSierra Sun
Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra SunThe campus of the Sierra Mountain Middle School in Truckee is quiet after the student body was moved to the new Alder Creek Middle School. Tahoe Truckee Unified School District officials are trying to decide how to best use the vacant campus.
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Sierra Mountain Middle School looks a lot like a ghost town these days, other than the spotty presence of a couple programs.Just last year the school was brimming with the activity of preteens, so much so that the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District opened the new Alder Creek Middle School in September to give the students and their teachers some much-needed elbow room. The school district shut off the utilities to 12 modular buildings on the older campus, which could constitute $12,000 in savings for the district by June 2005.There are agencies interested in leasing space at Sierra Mountain Middle School, but district officials say their hands are tied in an agreement with the Town of Truckee on traffic impact fees for the site.For example, Truckee Donner Recreation & Park District General Manager Steve Randall said his agency is interested in Sierra Mountain Middle Schools gym for sports programs.We dont have enough space to run the programs we currently have, he said.Despite interest from agencies, which range from a charter school to Tahoe Forest Hospital, today Sierra Mountain Middle School is largely vacant and its future in limbo. Since the construction of Alder Creek Middle School began, the school district has gone back and forth on what to do with the old campus selling it, leasing it out, or just shutting it down all together.Not so long ago, school district officials saw the sale of the site as a way to get out of three years of deficit spending. However, they found out the proceeds from the sale could not go toward the districts struggling general fund. The money, according to state law, could only be used for future capital improvement projects.District officials have now decided to hold on to the vacant middle school, which recently underwent a $1.3 million remodel. Based on current demographic study projections, Tahoe Truckee Unified School District will need more space for its growing elementary school population in Truckee in the next five to seven years, according to district Superintendent Dennis Williams.So in the mean time, district officials want to lease the campus to agencies that have expressed interest.However, school district officials have met a snafu that has forced them to postpone leasing the campus. When Alder Creek Middle School opened on Alder Drive, the school district and Town of Truckee reached an agreement that traffic impact fees that would normally be paid to the town with new development to the tune of $300,000, according to Williams would be waived if Sierra Mountain Middle School wasnt in use.Now, the town and school district must reach an agreement on the fees if the campus is to be leased.We have put everything on hold, Williams said. If we rent out portions of that building, well have to pay for it. There is some disagreement between the district and the town on those [traffic impact] fees.Town of Truckee officials were not available for comment at press time.If the district has to pay the mitigation fees, it will likely have to pass those costs off to those leasing space at the middle school, Williams said.


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