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Napa's relocated River Middle School gets rave reviews from students

Napa's relocated River Middle School gets rave reviews from students


For many years, River Middle School and Harvest Middle School shared a campus on Old Sonoma Road in south Napa. Not anymore.

On Monday, River moved to its new home — the former Salvador Elementary School campus on Salvador Avenue in north Napa.

“I’m thrilled” that the campus is finally open and the kids are on site, said River School Principal Peter Hartnack. “It’s been an amazing experience watching it come together.”

“I’m always happy for teachers and students to occupy a new space,” said Mike Pearson, director of facilities, maintenance and operations for Napa Valley Unified School District (NVUSD). “It’s a great feeling to call something your own,” especially a state-of-the-art facility like the new River School.

With the move to the former Salvador site at 1850 Salvador Ave., River School will be able to accommodate more students. The school currently has 420 and could expand to more than 530 students.

Salvador School completed its consolidation with the nearby El Centro campus in north Napa in the 2018-2019 school year. Those two schools have a new name: Willow Elementary.

The Salvador campus offers a new and “different vibe,” said Hartnack. With eight acres all to themselves, the school has room to spread out. Instead of sharing a home with Harvest Middle School, River students now have a sense of “’this is our spot,’” he said.

“They’re already taking ownership” of the campus, he said.

That includes the new indoor cafeteria.

Before this semester, River School students ate lunch at covered benches outside. Not now.

“The biggest surprise has been the amount of students in the cafeteria” at lunch time, the principal said. “They love it.”

Students arrived on campus for the first time on Monday morning. While the school buildings are finished, some landscaping work remains to be completed. A new grass area and track will soon open.

The former Salvador Elementary was completely remodeled. Three original buildings remain and six new buildings were created.

River School, a public school, includes 21 classrooms for grades 6 to 8.

On Tuesday during lunch, River School students had nothing but good things to say about the campus.

“I love it,” said Army Mares-Ramos, an eighth grader. “It’s amazing. Everything is new and we have our own space. We can run around and play sports.”

Mila Cornell, also in eighth grade, agreed. “It’s more open. You’re not as crowded,” she said. And since the school’s track is still under construction, “I don’t have to run yet,” she said with a smile.

“It’s like getting a new house,” said eighth-grader Benedetto Bertoz. The new school “smells like IKEA but it’s very nice,” he added.

“I think it’s great,” 8th-grader Jesus Gonzalez said. He ticked off some of the highlights: “We don’t have to eat outside anymore, the library is bigger and we have locker rooms inside the gym.”

Gonzalez said he liked how one building still displays the old Salvador school sign. “It’s a piece of history.”

“It’s a fresh, clean start,” said Natalie Hubert, also in eighth. Plus, “We get to be the first eighth graders here.”

“The atmosphere feels cozy and comfy,” said eighth grader Geoffrey Weber. The new school “is a whole lot cleaner,” he noted. “It feels professional.”

Having their own campus makes River “feel like a more traditional school,” said 8th-grader Willem Patty. “I think River School can (now) be recognized as its own school, not just a project.”

“It’s a proper school,” said fellow 8th-grader Liam Cringan. “Last year we had to share, now we have our own stuff.”

The new school feels spacious, said Will Lasar, also in eighth grade. Plus, “there’s a lot of good architecture.”

The project cost $31 million and was funded by Measure H money, said Pearson. “We’re thankful for Measure H voters for supporting this,” he said. If it weren’t for that, the school would not be where it is today.

Measure H, passed by NVUSD voters in June 2016, authorized $269 million for work to fund the district’s facilities master plan, including significant projects related to seismic- and earthquake-related needs; security and safety upgrades; technology upgrades; and, in the case of River School, making efficient use of NVUSD’s existing facilities, to offer students the services they need, said a NVUSD report.

And what will Harvest do with the extra space at its campus now that River has moved out?

“Over the next six months, staff will be assessing the classrooms and offices vacated by River School to determine the next steps for use by Harvest,” said Pearson.

You can reach Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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