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High tech center proposed for Douglas

by Sheila Gardner

School officials hope that a proposed $2 million technology center at the Western Nevada Community College Douglas campus will meet the demands of a declining student enrollment and delay the necessity of a new high school.

“Our enrollment has been very erratic,” said Rick Kester, district director of business services. “Our needs have changed.”

Kester spoke Thursday at a joint meeting of the school district board of trustees and Douglas County commissioners.

“This means instead of going to the voters for a new high school and middle school in eight or nine years, we won’t be back for 15 or 16,” Kester said.

The district added 20 new students this school year.

“We’re very interested in working with Western Nevada Community College to do something at the Douglas campus,” Kester said. “We’re envisioning a magnet school emphasizing math and technology in partnership with Bently.”

School board trustee Don Forrester explained Friday that the center is included in the WNCC’s “wish list.”

“Basically, Clark County wants two tech centers, Washoe County wants one and we want one. We thought we’d never get one when all the big guys want one, so we’re willing to do half of one and split it with Lyon County,” Forrester said.

Douglas County school district would help pay operating costs, he explained.

“Our students would be there during the morning, the high school and community college would share it in the mid-afternoon, and the college would use it through the evening,” he said.

Forrester said the cost would be $2 million to $3 million compared to $5 million to $6 million for a full center. A new high school costs between $25 million and $32 million.

School officials expressed concern that while education is a big chunk of the state budget, only 32 percent of the allocated funds go to kindergarten through 12th grade programs, the rest is earmarked for higher education.

“We will continue to struggle to see that kindergarten through 12th grade support doesn’t keep eroding,” said Superintendent Pendery Clark. “We expect there to be a major battle with the Legislature. We will keep a unified voice about the need to maintain the current level of funding.”

Kester credited the slow enrollment growth to a changing Douglas County population.

“We’re seeing an older population,” Kester said. “People are semi-retired and are the parents of high school students. This is the first time we’ve seen the number of elementary school students decline.”

He attributed the population shift to the lack of affordable housing and high-paying jobs in Douglas County, which means couples with younger children can’t afford to move here.

“With the higher cost of housing, an older population moves into the community. To a certain degree, jobs here are not higher paying jobs,” Kester said.

He also said the student population is shifting north.

“Sixty-five percent of our students used to be in the Ranchos,” Kester said. “Now, it’s 48 percent.”

The district still has not selected a site for a new high school. Kester told the board a new middle school probably would be built adjacent to Jacks Valley Elementary School.

The trustees asked to be advised of upcoming developments which may have an impact on the district’s schools, such as the recently approved Crestmore and Oakwood developments on Elges Lane in the Gardnerville Elementary School area.

“Be careful that you don’t put all the low cost housing in one district,” said trustee Don Forrester.

“The posture of the school district is that we take all comers,” said trustee Randy Wallstrum. “GES will handle all comers. That’s our job. But we’re not planners, you are. We just would appreciate having some input.”

Commissioner Bernie Curtis told the board that Crestmore/Oakwood would be a combination that would include affordable housing, but higher end residences as well.

“It’s a mix,” he said. “You shouldn’t be able to tell what is and what isn’t affordable housing.”

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