Next steps weighed for private K-12 Tahoe school campus | SierraSun.com

Next steps weighed for private K-12 Tahoe school campus

Josh Staab
jstaab@sierrasun.com

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Tahoe Expedition Academy officials listened to public feedback this week regarding the school's proposed 60,000-square-foot campus at Martis Valley.

The campus, announced in April, would be located on a 42-acre property on Schaffer Mill Road known as Hopkins Ranch.

At a pair of workshops Wednesday, residents focused on asking critical questions, including what types of impacts the project could have on the surrounding area.

"Our meetings so far have provided a great opportunity to hear community concerns and we will be integrating responses to those concerns in our plans," said Courtenay Wallpe, TEA director of development, in a written response after the meetings. "TEA's perspective from the two public meetings yesterday as well as other interactions we have had to-date is that overall, people are supportive of the new school project."

Many of the questions Wednesday came from residents whose properties are in Lahontan, an area that overlooks the Martis Valley.

Questions included what kind of traffic impact could be expected, environmental concerns, and how much noise and light would carry across the Martis Valley.

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"It's nothing new that any project faces, and you have to take those concerns into account as a developer on the project," said Sean O'Toole, a Martis area resident, TEA student parent and volunteer consultant on the project.

CAMPUS PLANS

Project architects Peter Pfau and Larry Young, respectively of the San Francisco-based firm Pfau Long and Truckee-based Ward Young, on Wednesday presented diagrams and mock-ups of the proposed development.

Students would have access to ziplines, can walk across rope bridges spanning the expanse of the Martis Valley wetlands, and go to classes in small classroom buildings across the 60,000-square-foot site.

The current concept is for multiple smaller buildings, ranging from 5,000-8,000 square feet, with one building proposed to be around 12,000 square feet, O'Toole said.

The design, the architects said, would take advantage of the location's topography and ecosystem in a way meant to preserve the area's natural beauty.

"Preserving that beauty is important to me personally," Pfau said. "We want to make the natural topography work for the school."

Pfau addressed parking and traffic concerns, saying the designers, "want to keep the vehicular needs to an absolute minimum," and that the primary site would be "pedestrian" in function.

The development is designed to allow land owned by the Truckee Donner Land Trust on either side of Schaffer Mill Road to act as a sort of "buffer" zone between the road and the school location, as the designers are concerned with preserving that open space, O'Toole said.

"They don't want a school that is very visible, that is massive, that is traditional in the sense of the school we went to," said Keith Franke, development and design director with DMB/Highlands Group, LLC and Martis Camp consultant on this project.

WHAT'S NEXT

Franke also laid out a timeline that would take the design from the necessary environmental studies and permit approvals through its construction to a September 2017 opening date, when students would actually begin attending.

Though school officials didn't want to emphasize boarding strategies to attract students, Wallpe said, it would be unrealistic to preclude some boarding efforts.

It's still not clear what kind of environmental studies will be required at this stage, Franke noted, as design still has to be submitted for Placer County.

Further, while an environmental impact report was already conducted on the Hopkins Ranch development years ago, how it could impact the TEA design is still uncertain, Franke said.

"The scientists will do their work," he said. "We're not sure what that process will look like with Placer County though."

TEA's $4 million offer to acquire the land from the Martis Fun presented an opportunity to give the Fund a broader range of options to support workforce housing in the region, Terry Watt, adviser to the Martis Fund, said in a written response.

These include grants to workforce housing projects, acquiring land for future projects, expanded down payment assistance programs, rehabilitation of substandard housing, and others.

The sale will move forward only if the TEA campus is approved by the county. When the Martis Fund is assured of funding, Watt said it will be in a position to identify specific projects.

TEA officials will be releasing conceptual plans and renderings in August via the futuretea.org website.