Parents and community members met with school district officials last week to hear about the latest plans to build a new Napa Junction Elementary School and a second middle school in American Canyon.
Many of them expressed worries about the middle school design and potential problems with traffic, safety, and construction timelines, leading to frustration among some.
Elizabeth Goff, a teacher at American Canyon High School, warned the district about the middle school — which will be built next door to ACHS — and plans to have only one way in and out of the new campus for parents and students.
“It’s a horrendous idea,” Goff told Mike Pearson, director of facilities, maintenance, operations for Napa Valley Unified School District.
Goff said kids, parents and staff could become bottle-necked trying to get on and off the campus — particularly during an emergency — while using a two-lane road that includes a small bridge to cross a nearby creek running parallel to the front of the school.
“This is something you really need to consider,” she said, “because it’s going to be an issue.”
In an interview on Monday, Goff said she believes the district has “our best interests at heart” and didn’t want her remarks construed as “bashing” anyone.
Still, she worried the one road for the middle school could lead to trouble.
“My biggest fear is somebody is going to get hurt,” she said, if cars, bicyclists and pedestrians have to use the same route. “And the district is going to get sued and it will cost a hundred times more than a stupid bridge.”
Pearson said the architects designed the new middle school to have an emergency access road on the north side of campus to help in critical situations.
Goff and others asked Pearson if it was possible to change the design to provide a second roadway for students, staff and parents to reach the campus.
Pearson was unable to provide an answer at the meeting that night.
Assistant Superintendent Wade Roach said Tuesday that adding a second roadway would also mean building a second bridge over the creek that could create “insurmountable obstacles.”
The district would need to get approval from multiple agencies before building a second road and bridge, “creating time constraints,” plus there could be budget issues to pay for the work. Such a plan is “unfeasible at this time,” according to Roach.
He added the district will be meeting with the city of American Canyon soon to talk about this issue and see if there are other options for getting to and from the new middle school.
Goff wasn’t the only concerned person at the Oct. 17 meeting that attracted about two dozen parents and community members to the ACHS Theater.
A parent told Pearson any “lay person” could look at the designs and see that having only one entrance and exit was “a design flaw.”
Other attendees raised plenty of additional concerns, such as when the two new schools will open.
The district originally projected fall of 2019. On Wednesday night, officials said fall 2020 — with the caveat that schedules are “organic,” according to Pearson.
He said the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year is their target, but noted things could interfere with their goal, such as state approvals of designs or bad weather during construction.
Parent Rob Hall had doubts about the schools being ready by 2020.
Hall runs a company in Petaluma that deals with contractors and construction. In his experience, costs have ballooned in recent years following the fires that ravaged Napa and Sonoma counties.
“To be bluntly honest, I think the 2020 date is very aggressive and probably not attainable,” Hall said after the meeting.
He said the district offered fall 2020 “to appease the parents,” but “my gut tells me we’re going to get into late 2019” and the date will change again.
“I’m hoping there won’t be cost overruns, or delays and cost overruns cause then you’re looking at what do you cut” from the designs, Hall said.
NVUSD has experienced problems meeting timelines for projects in Napa. River School, a charter middle school, was supposed to move into a new campus by August 2019. But construction is taking longer than expected, and the opening of the new campus has been pushed back to a date still to be determined, officials announced last week.
American Canyon residents took issue with other design aspects of the middle school.
Karina Servente, a parent and district employee, asked why it won’t have a swimming pool. She said other middle schools in Napa have one, raising the issue of “equality” for American Canyon students.
Pearson said the district can’t afford to include a pool without sacrificing some other amenity. He said ACHS has a swimming pool, raising the possibility of middle school students using it.
Servente replied: “I don’t want a maybe.” As a parent, she added, “I want equality.”
Pearson promised parents that he will be back in American Canyon with more updates on the school designs. He vowed to have more regular communication with the community, possibly monthly or bimonthly, with future meeting dates to be announced.
Hall faulted the district for previously not keeping parents better informed. But he came away encouraged by Pearson’s effort to improve things.
“I want to give them a chance,” Hall said. “That’s one of the key things that there was not a lot of communication,” which created “frustration in us the parents.”
Superintendent Rosanna Mucetti attended the meeting, and said at the conclusion that she would meet with her team to discuss and address the issues raised.