Special Meeting (June 22) Highlights
Yavapai County Proposed Lease of the Big Park School Campus
President John Wichert called the meeting to order from Supervisor Michaels’ office at 12:03pm. Sedona Oak Creek Unified School District Board (SOCUSD) President Randy Hawley was also present in her office. Supervisor Michaels then introduced Corey Christians, Yavapai County Field Library Director attending via Zoom.
Secretary Mary Pope called roll confirming 6 Member Organizations and 33 guests present.
Supervisor Michaels explained her goals to be supportive and inclusive of the community and expressed concern that she was seeing negativism about this project in social media and other news sources. Randy Hawley also expressed his confusion that there was public outcry over a proposed lease of the Big Park School campus when the SOCUSD was using the same process with respect to Yavapai County as they used for all other lessees. The school board meetings have been open to the public and newspaper articles have summarized their discussions, which included the proposed lease.
John Wichert expressed the community’s long-standing support of repurposing the Big Park School campus, asking only that there be public input to the process so that the community could have a better understanding of the county’s plans. He noted that in a community of retirees, we are perhaps not as likely to notice news regarding schools and in thanking Supervisor Michaels, Board President Hawley, and Library Director Christians for coming to this special Big Park Council meeting, John acknowledged that that we all had an obligation to keep abreast of the news and direct questions to the source rather than speculate.
Supervisor Michaels then reminded the group that she lives in and loves the community and that a campus of services is the goal, and that this has never been intended to be a back-door effort. She emphasized that preliminary explorations are necessarily usefully vague as contacts are being made and alternative opportunities evaluated. She sees her job as advocating for the community and she has been doing so together with the school board. She wanted to be sure that there would be positive offerings to be announced, and noted that while other conversations are taking place, she is comfortable that the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO), Verde Valley Caregivers (VVC) and Spectrum Healthcare will be potential future lessees.
Randy Hawley then reiterated that all current lessees will remain in effect, and that this requirement will become a part of the proposed lease with the county. A current lessee will only be removed for failure to comply with the terms of their lease or unprofessional conduct. He noted that the meeting of the SOCUSD June 23 has been cancelled and that their attorneys have reviewed and approved the draft letter of intent. A Statement of Intent to Lease will now be on the SOCUSD’s agenda in July. He reminded the group that five years ago when the Big Park School was closed, the school district was under-enrolled and over two million dollars in debt. That situation has been reversed, but the Big Park School campus continues to be a monetary drain for utilities and maintenance.
Q&A began with a question of who would manage the premises going forward, and that has not yet been determined.
It was noted that there seemed to be undue pressure to complete the leasing process quickly because of YCSO’s need to begin their lease July 1. Randy noted that to allow more time to develop the details of the lease with Yavapai County, a separate lease has been signed with the YCSO. Supervisor Michaels stated that YCSO has agreed to repair (at its own expense) the approximately 5000 sq ft portion. The cost of repair will be deducted from the negotiated lease.
Several meeting attendees congratulated Supervisor Michaels on moving forward to protect and enhance this community asset, asking if there would be community overview or monitoring of the campus going forward. Supervisor Michaels replied that Big Park Council as is its history will continue as a forum for community engagement and dialogue to Supervisor Michaels. Moreover, this is a premature request given the status of this potential partnership. There is no intent for the facility to become “Prescott-centric.” Furthermore, Supervisor Michaels encouraged people to vote for candidates both School Board and County that will advocate for the Big Park/VOC community.
Questions then became more specific with nearby neighbors expressing a concern that access to the facility was on neighborhood roads. Supervisor Michaels replied that traffic studies would be done as a part of the process. In answer to a concern about YCSO police sirens blaring though the neighborhood, she noted that Sheriff Rhodes was sensitive to the community and that would not happen, unless, of course, there was an emergency at a local neighborhood home.
Camilla Ross emphasized the positive experiences that the Sedona Arts Academy has had in her dealings with Supervisor Michaels. She emphasized that the community needs to come together and be open minded about the proposals. All need to be heard and all need to listen.
A concern was then raised about the presence of the YCSO and possible impact on the safety of the community if offenders and parolees were coming/going. Supervisor Michaels assured the group that the YCSO presence would be administrative offices and search & rescue only, not parole or enforcement. No jail cells are included in the plans. In response to a question on helicopters and emergency equipment traffic, she reiterated that these were administrative offices, helicopters departed from other facilities and that the equipment on site would be ropes and climbing gear. In addition, safety demonstrations are in the mix of Supervisor Michaels vision. The helipad is a premature consideration at this time as the entire focus is on the letter of intent.
Director Christians then explained Yavapai County library expansion plans within the Big Park School facility. He emphasized that there were no plans to remove the Sedona Public Library nor compete with its offerings. The idea is to increase engagement with the community with expanded specialized offerings. Ideas being considered include a “Memory Café” to assist Verde Valley Caregivers, 3D printing for local businesses, Telehealth and Telemedicine options. He is seeking funding to be able to make supplemental offerings such as these possible.
There are currently 58 libraries within Yavapai County and Director Christians oversees 15 of the branches and coordinates activities and offerings so that they collaborate and work together.
Director Christians then addressed concerns that funding of the SPL was cut by Yavapai County. He explained that funding to all of the Yavapai County’s libraries was cut at the same percentage (2.3%) due to money shortfalls at the county level (see attached information.). He complimented the Board of Supervisors in not approving the proposed 4.6% cut in a single year, splitting it to take effect over a two-year period to give the libraries time to raise funds elsewhere.
As the questions returned to the Big Park School facility itself, a concern was raised on maintenance of the building and surrounding areas noting that overgrown brush and weeds are creating a fire hazard. Board President Hawley emphasized that the County is agreeing to repair the facility as part of the lease agreement and that extensive repairs, including roof leaks, are necessary. He noted that maintenance responsibilities and payment for maintenance would be made clear in the lease. Supervisor Michaels called attention to the high maintenance standard that the county keeps with respect to facilities and grounds. She noted that one of the reasons that the idea was to have a lease with intent to buy rather than an outright purchase of the facility, is to have the time to fully experience and understand the needs of the facility before a purchase is made. She then suggested that as there is still a lot of time between now and the proposed county lease of the buildings, that a community volunteer cleanup program be organized and noted that she’s happy to be included in that effort.
The group then returned to the idea of the Big Park Council acting as a forum for community engagement and dialog with the county going forward. It was noted that county and local officials used to routinely participate in Big Park Council meetings and that practice stopped in April of 2020 when in-person meetings were stopped due to COVID and had only just been resumed in April of this year. The importance of local officials’ participation in Council meetings was emphasized and will become a part of meeting agendas going forward. Supervisor Michaels stated that she has made personal requests to be on the BPC agenda, in absence of an invitation as has been the practice in the past.
The meeting ended on a high note, with attendees expressing excitement that the county would be doing something vibrant and beneficial for the community with the Big Park School campus and that the Big Park Council would serve as a focal point for community engagement in the process.
The meeting was adjourned at 1:46pm