Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, Jan. 3 @ 12:56 p.m. / Infrastructure, Local Government
Things Are Happening With Bar-O; Supes Order Appraisal of Former Court School in Smith River NRA
This video was created by students at Bar-O and shared on YouTube by Elizabeth Calleja who worked at the school.
Del Norte County supervisors took a first step toward figuring out what to do with Bar-O Boys Ranch last month.
Their approval to use $30,000 in federal Title III dollars to conduct a comprehensive assessment and appraisal of the former court school for boys, which appeared on the Dec. 13 consent agenda, drew applause from the chair of the Juvenile Justice Commission, Paul Dillard.
Dillard, who opposed Bar-O’s closure in 2017, urged the Board of Supervisors to partner with the U.S. Forest Service, calling it a “gold mine” for fire suppression.
But, while the Forest Service is one party that has indicated interest in the property, county supervisors need to see the results of the appraisal so they can decide Bar-O’s future, said Assistant County Administrative Officer Randy Hooper.
“It is hard to say when that might begin as we will need to work through getting proposals and contracting with vendors for those services,” Hooper told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday. “Then, once hired, they will need some time to develop the reports and plans.”
According to County Administrative Officer Neal Lopez, Title III money has to be used for a project that’s on a national forest or within the National Recreation Area. It’s typically limited to road-clearing and other wildfire prevention projects, he said.
“This is one of the allowable uses because of the location of the property and it’s for a fire-related project,” Lopez told the Outpost. “If you use that property and have it more secure and ready and resistant to fires, and if you establish a fire-related base up there, that’s more along the lines of what the funds can be used for.”
Bar-O Boys Ranch was a 42-bed facility for juvenile offenders housed on a 40-acre parcel in the middle of the Smith River National Recreation Area. Before it closed, courts across California assigned teenage boys to the school. Their teachers were from the Del Norte County Office of Education, though the Del Norte County Probation Department oversaw the facility.
The site has a dormitory, offices, gym, houses and outbuildings, according to a 2017 closure plan prepared by the probation department.
In its later years, Bar-O’s population had dwindled and it was running on a budget deficit, according to the probation department’s report.
Since closing the school, Del Norte County has received a number of inquiries about Bar-O, Hooper told the Outpost. It has leased the facility to the Forest Service during wildfires as well as to the production company behind the 2018 Sandra Bullock film Bird Box.
Without understanding the value of the property, the Board of Supervisors can’t enter into any meaningful negotiation about Bar-O’s future, Hooper said. There have been multiple improvements made over decades, some that weren’t properly recorded.
The appraisal and assessment will include a report on the condition of the building, roads, water wells and sewage disposal systems as well as the locations of the improvements, he said.
“The report will also include mapping developed based on the site investigations and permit records so it is clear what all exists on the property and were,” Hooper said. “The report may also include details such as the feasibility for development for a variety of different uses. Those details will be finalized once the scope of work is fully developed.”
Noting that the U.S. Forest Service has indicated the strongest interest in Bar-O, the assessment and appraisal of the property is also needed for the agency to move its funding requests “up the chain of command,” Hooper said.
“Basically, the Forest Service has a lot of questions for us about the property that need to be examined before they can seriously consider it,” he said, “and we just don’t have the answers based on the available records.”
According to Hooper, Gasquet District Ranger Kathy Allen told him the site could potentially be used to house the Smith River Hotshots as well as incident management teams from across the country during fire season.
However, those are aspirations at this point, Six Rivers National Forest Service spokeswoman Betsy Totten told the Outpost.
Hooper said the U.S. Forest Service potentially taking over Bar-O will likely be one of a number of potential options for supervisors to consider.
“Having these critical pieces of information will be helpful to the Board in determining what course to take with the property,” he said. “While no definitive determination has been made as to plans for the property, these plans/reports will certainly help the Board form a strategy.”