Sebastopol Independent Charter School, which for years has split operations between two campuses because of lack of space, is in escrow on a 18-acre property off Highway 116 on the northern border of Sebastopol.
The 20-acre site, once eyed by Santa Rosa Junior College for a west county educational center before legal wrangling thwarted the deal, is expected to be carved into two pieces. The 275-student Waldorf-inspired charter school is expected to use 18 acres of the property, which wraps around a 2-acre parcel with a home and pool.
"It's the dream of the founding member of our school," said Bob Haroche, a parent of two charter school students and president of The Charter Foundation, the school's main fundraising group.
The school, established in 1995, has housed kindergarten through second graders in space on the Brook Haven School campus on Valentine Avenue, which the charter school leases from the Sebastopol School District for $21,000 a year. Third through eighth graders are in a facility on South Main Street that the school owns outright. In addition, the charter school rents portable buildings, has a separate faculty building and a storage unit.
"We are kind of all over the place," said first-year operations director John Azzizzi.
The Hurlbut Avenue property, which is bordered by Highway 116, Apple Blossom Lane and the Joe Rodota Trail, has been part of a contentious sale history.
Purchased in 1959 by Marceline and Everett Salmon, Santa Rosa Junior College eyed the land for a satellite campus in 2007, a year after Everett Salmon's death. That deal fell through after conflict arose with the county over SRJC's desire to access the land from Highway 116 rather than Salmon's residential driveway on Hurlbut Avenue.
Decades ago, the Salmons deeded a railroad right-of-way on the southern border of their home to the county for the Joe Rodota Trail. An entry to the property from Highway 116 at the Mill Station Road stoplight would require cars to pass over the trail. The county granted the Salmon family an easement for the driveway, although it was never recorded, according to a family representative.
"They were promised an easement and it was in writing," said Paul Scheinberg, an accountant who represents the Salmons' four children. "The county just kept putting up roadblocks."
There is pending litigation between the Salmon family and Sonoma County over the lost SRJC deal. Both Scheinberg and charter school officials said the easement is expected to allow the school community access to the land from Highway 116 — not the much smaller, narrower Hurlbut Avenue.
There are no plans to "have any kind of entrance off Hurlbut," said the school's first-year executive director Chris Topham.
"We want very, very much to start a dialogue with neighbors, (to make sure) that they are OK about having a school in their backyard," he said.
The $1.76 million selling price does not include the 2 acres that include a home and pool. That property, which would be bordered on three sides by the charter school campus, remains on the market, Scheinberg said.
"A lot of that land will be orchards or farm or playing field with sufficient setbacks of our buildings and whatnot. I think we can work it out," Haroche said of the unique arrangement.
Locating a school on the property will require being granted a conditional use permit from the county, Haroche said. The property is not within Sebastopol city limits, so the school would have to provide its own water and sewer system.