Having run a school that is more than 60 years old, difficult to access, and sits atop an active earthquake fault, Principal Donna Drago is as excited as anyone by the idea of the new Napa Junction Elementary School.
“Awesome,” was Drago’s response last Wednesday after seeing the design and layout for her new school, which is moving two miles to the west near the wetlands.
“Oh my god it’s going to be amazing,” she said. “I feel like I’m going all the way from the bottom of the pit to the penthouse for locations.”
“It looks wonderful,” she added.
District officials held a community meeting Wednesday evening in the theater at American Canyon High School to show images of the new site, located at the corner of Eucalyptus Drive and Commerce Boulevard.
The future Napa Junction Elementary will be a short walk from the trails that run through the wetlands and along the Napa River.
Teachers frequently take their students there already to supplement curriculum involving science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
“We access the wetlands a lot for the STEM program,” said Drago, “but we’re either walking the two miles or paying for a bus” to reach it. So the idea of the wetlands being our front yard is killer.”
Drago is happy for other reasons.
For one thing, her school will no longer be sitting atop the West Napa Fault once the new campus opens in the fall of 2020.
The 2014 earthquake damaged several classrooms, forcing some students to temporarily relocate to the high school while repairs were made.
Napa Junction is also one of the oldest schools in the Napa Valley Unified School District, having been built in the 1950s.
Its cul de sac location at the very end of Napa Junction Road has made it difficult to reach when parents are dropping off and picking up their kids, generating long lines of cars.
Architects hired by the district made traffic flow a top priority in designing the layout of the new campus.
“We want to make sure it is readily accessible and safe,” said Anna Win with ATI Architects + Engineers.
The school will have two parking lots, and entry points for vehicles from Eucalyptus and Commerce, as well as a pedestrian pathway for children walking to and from school.
Parent Yvonne Lobo, who is disabled and struggles sometimes getting in and out of her car at Napa Junction, told the architects to make sure the parking spaces are bigger than at the current school, and to have more disability parking.
“I think the parking is the only thing they need to adjust on it right now,” Lobo said of the design. Larger parking spots “and not enough handicapped spaces, that’s a big issue right now.” The current school has only two such spaces, she said.
Overall, “I think they have a pretty good plan in place,” she said.
Another parent asked during the Q&A portion of the meeting if the new school will be safe for his children. “I’m very much concerned about security and access,” he said.
The current Napa Junction was the first school in the district to have fencing and front gate installed as part of funding from Measure H, the $269 million school bond approved in 2016.
Win told the audience that the new school will be fenced off, and that all visitors would have to go through the administration building to access the campus.
She added that gates would be installed between buildings for an added layer of security inside the school.
District officials are also talking to city planners about rerouting Commerce Boulevard so that any truck traffic goes around and behind the new school to avoid commercial vehicles passing by in front of it.
This concern was raised previously at City Council meetings when officials decided to rezone the area just north of where the new school will be to encourage commercial development.
For parents who missed Wednesday’s meeting, district officials and architects will make another presentation on April 5 at Napa Junction as part of the monthly “Coffee with the Principal” event.