Discussions over the possibility of a land transfer from the U.S. Forest Service to the Grand Canyon School District in Tusayan appear to be headed in a positive direction, but there are a few new elements of the plan.
Richard Stahn, acting district ranger for the Tusayan Ranger District, said an idea being "kicked around" involves the construction of a co-generation power plant near the proposed school district site.
"We want to propose a co-generation power plant and we need a little bit of acreage for that facility," Stahn said Thursday in a meeting with school superintendent Ray Vernon and Tusayan residents Clarinda Vail and Pete Shearer. "I have no idea if this is going to go or not, but it looks good so far."
Stahn said the Forest Service began to seriously consider such an option last summer, but there have been issues involving investors. The plant would convert waste materials from the forest into electricity, hooking up with the nearby Arizona Public Service substation. As a backup, Stahn said solid waste could also be used to generate power.
"We can ship it over here to generate power," Stahn said, referring to the community of Tusayan. "There would be almost no emissions This is all in the extremely preliminary stage."
Stahn added that APS representative Don Keil, Coconino County supervisor Paul Babbitt and U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl are all receptive to the idea.
Although the plant would be nearly 100-percent emissions free, Stahn said he did not know what kind of noise would be generated. The plant’s operation would involve turbines.
"We’ll see if they can co-exist together," Stahn said. "If not, we’ll go to Plan B."
With the power plant proposal, Stahn went over various options involving boundary changes for that particular area for the school district. It appeared any changes would be minor.
The proposed school district site is located between Canyon Pines Trailer Park and Grand Canyon National Park Airport on the west side of State Route 64. The school originally asked for about 29 acres in the area to build a high school, auditorium, employee housing, outdoor facilities, a staff development center, district office and governing board room. The school site within the national park would then become a K-8 facility.
Vernon was directed by the school board and its July meeting to prepare a draft request for proposals for the development of a facilities master plan. In the preliminary draft RFP, plans call for it to be published Sept. 10 with proposals due by Oct. 10. On that timeline, Vernon said he’d like to be able to hand the master plan to Stahn by the end of January.
"After that, we would start the NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) process, which goes for 120 days," Stahn said. "Mike Williams (Kaibab National Forest supervisor) said he wants this thing to go through quickly, so it’s a top priority."
If everything came together on schedule, Williams could then sign the document to make it a done deal, Stahn said.
Stahn also said a full environmental impact statement would not necessarily be needed, just an environmental assessment, but added "you never know." Vernon said the school district wouldn’t pay for the EA with Stahn saying "we’ll find a way to get that done."
The RFP was to be submitted to the school board at Tuesday’s meeting.
The Education Land Grant Act allows for the transfer of up to 80 acres of "nonenvironmentally sensitive" Forest Service land to school districts meeting certain conditions. Although a new high school may be far off in future plans, there is an immediate need for things like athletic fields and employee housing.
As part of a proposal made to the Arizona School Facilities Board, the district prepared projections showing an increase of 228 "housing units" based on expected development.
Another new component that could impact the school’s future involves the recent real estate transfer of 16,000 acres to a housing developer 15 miles south of Tusayan. The development could encompass as many as 400 home sites based on 40-acre ranches.
"The only catch is funding growth outside the district," Vernon said. "But the logic is there, it’s 15 miles out of town."
The location, or at least most of it, is situated inside the north end of the Williams School District in the Red Butte area just south of the forest line and north of Willaha Road. But as Vail pointed out, open enrollment policies could lead to most students from such a housing area taking the shorter route to Grand Canyon for school. The student increase would also positively impact the school budget.
There was also brief discussion about how a school campus on the site would be situated. An historic register tree in the area is a factor and Shearer said there should be a "buffer zone" between the school and Canyon Pines Trailer Park. Reclaim and potable water storage was also mentioned as an infrastructure need.
All four at the meeting agreed that the development of a school in Tusayan would do wonders for the small community. Most communities of Tusayan’s size do revolve around activities and facilities involving a local school. Shearer said the school could partner with other government entities to kick in money for facilities, which is allowable if they are used for educational purposes.
The proposed school site was favored because of its location out of the airport flight path, near a paved road and a fairly open area that would require minimal tree thinning.
Vernon said Rep. J.D. Hayworth would like to see Grand Canyon become the first school to benefit from his Educational Land Grant Act.
"We’d like to see it happen as well, he’s not the only one," Stahn said. "It sounds like a pretty good deal all the way around."