The Napa Valley Unified School District has decided not to move Stone Bridge School — which sits atop an earthquake fault — to a new location off Old Sonoma Road after discovering a fault beneath the proposed site.
The decision marks the latest turn in the Stone Bridge saga that has seen the school district propose, then scuttle plans for either moving or rebuilding the charter school that has the twin dangers of the West Napa Fault and a Pacific Gas & Electric natural gas transmission line running beneath it.
In December, district leaders informed the school board that they wanted to purchase 7.6 acres at 5266 Old Sonoma Road for $1.8 million, and turn it into a new home for Stone Bridge.
That plan produced concerns from Napa County officials and agriculture and vineyard representatives, as well as opposition from those living near the Old Sonoma Road location.
On Friday, Stone Bridge Administrator Maria Martinez informed parents in an email that NVUSD had decided not to relocate the school to the proposed site after a geological study showed a fault under the property.
The announcement came only four days after the school held a meeting on Monday, March 5 updating parents on the plans to still move to 5266 Old Sonoma Road.
“While we were hopeful about securing the new school relocation site discussed at this past Monday’s public meeting regarding the Old Sonoma Road property,” Martinez wrote in her email, “we unfortunately are not able to proceed with that property due to new information our geotechnical consultant produced this week.”
Martinez said that “new fault line information collected in conjunction” with the California Department of Conservation and geological survey mapping experts “revealed it is not an ideal and safe location for a school.”
District spokesperson Elizabeth Emmett said on Tuesday that the district received the earthquake fault information after the public meeting on March 5, which was why the bad news wasn’t presented then to the school community.
“At that point, we did not yet have the info from the geologists,” said Emmett. “By Thursday we had the info and the [school board] gave instruction to discontinue consideration of that property.”
Asked if the decision was influenced by the opposition that arose to the move to Old Sonoma Road, Emmett said, “The change in direction was directly” from the discovery of the earthquake fault.
The district will not go through with purchasing the 7.6 acres at 5266 Old Sonoma Road, according to Emmett.
“We will continue to look for a site,” she said. “We still have some options we’re still looking at.”
The district still intends to move Stone Bridge and open its new campus by the fall of 2020. “That’s still our goal,” Emmett said.
Martinez said on Tuesday that while “there is disappointment” over the news, “I feel the district is committed to finding the right spot for us.”
She told parents in her March 9 email the “school district remains committed to identifying a relocation site that will be safe and appropriate” for Stone Bridge.
“NVUSD will continue to work closely with the school community to identify a suitable replacement site,” Martinez wrote.
The school will hold a public meeting on April 17 at 7 p.m. to update the community on what’s next for Stone Bridge.
The plan to move to Old Sonoma Road prompted the Napa County Planning Commission in February to take up the issue, though the commission could only offer advice on the proposal because the school district is a public agency and the county has no veto power over its decisions.
The commission determined the Old Sonoma Road location would be inconsistent with agricultural zoning and other county policies, but stopped short of opposing the move.
Officials with the Napa County Farm Bureau and the Napa Valley Grapegrowers voiced concerns about the Stone Bridge plans.
The county received more than 20 letters from people opposed to the school relocation. Most of them live in The Orchard, a residential development at the Carneros Resort & Spa next to the Old Sonoma Road property.
The Stone Bridge community has been waiting two years for a permanent solution for their school.
During the school district’s drive in 2016 to pass Measure H, the $269 million school bond, NVUSD officials told parents that the school would be rebuilt on its current campus, located just off Los Carneros Avenue.
The presence of the West Napa Fault under the school prompted the district to form plans for shifting Stone Bridge’s building to another portion of its 10-acre site.
But after voters approved Measure H, the district said it could not safely move the buildings out of harm’s way given both the fault and the large PG&E transmission under the property.
Both of these dangers became evident after the August 2014 earthquake, which left large cracks in the school parking lot. PG&E crews replaced a segment of their 26-inch pipeline in response to the seismic event.
In September 2016, district leaders proposed moving Stone Bridge to Yountville and sharing the campus of Yountville Elementary School, which has had declining enrollment for years.
Parents of both school communities reacted negatively to this idea.
The school board subsequently directed the district to find a suitable site on which to build a new Stone Bridge School, which led to the plan for 5266 Old Sonoma Road.
Despite the latest disappointing news from the district, Martinez is still confident that things will work out for her school.
“I’m a firm believer in the adage that ‘Whenever a door closes, a window opens,’” she wrote to parents in her March 9 email.
“They’ll keep looking and we’ll keep holding the vision,” she concluded.