Old eyesore creates school district dilemma

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Imagine you own a prime piece of property on prime agricultural soil, and a rare small piece at that. However, you can’t use it and you can’t really sell it either.

This is the situation in which the Winters School District finds itself as it tries to come up for solutions to the problem of the old Wolfskill High School site, located at Bowman Road and Boyce Road in Solano County. Once known as Wolfskill Elementary School, where many native Winters residents attended school decades ago, then a kindergarten and finally the home of Wolfskill High School until the doors and windows were shuttered and the high school relocated to the old John Clayton Kinder School site on Baker Street in 2006, the building now stands idle and unkempt, and according to Winters Superintendent of Schools Todd Cutler, the neighbors keep asking when something will be done to clean it up.

Trouble is, so is the school district.

“Every time I think I have an answer to the issues, I run into new issues,” says Cutler.

Cutler explains that simply selling the property or tearing down the old building and constructing a new one aren’t as simple as one might thing, due to a variety of constraints on the property, from the requirements of the property deed to laws pertaining to school property.

The 1.7 acre piece of property at 4895 Bowman Road consists of a one-acre parcel sold to the Wolfskill School District by Theodore Winters himself for $1 on March 13, 1873, and a .7 acre parcel sold to Wolfskill Elementary School by Lucien Richey on June 14, 1961. The entire property was most recently valued at $1,310,540 in December 2014.

That seems like it would be a lucrative profit for the school district, however, Cutler explains that the property was essentially given to the school district with the restriction that should the district ever decide to sell it, it must be given back to the survivors of the property owners and at the moment, it’s difficult to figure out who that might be all these years later, particularly for the parcel belonging to Theodore Winters.

“Nobody knows what to do with it,” Cutler says, explaining that the building itself is not only unsafe to be used for programs or students or even storage, and isn’t even safe to be torn or burned down until it is cleared of potentially hazardous waste, such as old paint that contains lead and asbestos. Doing anything with the building or property triggers many California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) concerns. Essentially, the building itself is an environmental hazard. And so, it sits. And sits. And sits.

Even if the building could be repaired, Cutler notes that the school district decided that it was not cost-effective to bus students out to the site and so doesn’t want it to be used for that purpose again, even if the building could be brought up to code The district also doesn’t really want to sell the property, because property is difficult to come by and also because there are many state restrictions on how and when school property can be sold.

And so, it sits some more.

Bottom line, says Cutler, is trying to estimate the cost of “dealing with the challenges this property is creating,” and he notes that most of the solutions are “fiscally not an option at this time.”

He says several ideas for the property have been floated around, including selling one parcel to fix the other, or to allow a local educational group, like the Center for Land Based Learning, use the property, or even leasing the property to nearby residents for agricultural use. But in each case, there is a worn-out unusable building that must be dealt with. But dealt with it must be, for in addition to being an eyesore for neighbors, the building could attract vagrants and vandalism, and very likely has already attracted wild animals and birds that may be living inside the structure, adding another layer of concern to tearing it down.

These will be among the concerns and options to be discussed by the Winters School Board at an upcoming school board meeting. Anyone have ideas? The school district and school board are listening.

This is how the old Wolfskill High School building looked when it was built.
File Photo
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