WATSONVILLE — For nearly 15 years, Pajaro Valley High School students have played “home” games at rival schools, and practiced on a misshapen field choked with gopher holes.
Those days are numbered.
Work crews on Monday will begin construction on the school’s long-awaited field, a $12.9 million project that will fulfill a promise made to generations of students since they first walked onto campus in 2004.
Senior Jayleen Solorzano, who participates in cross-country, basketball and track, said she practiced in the school’s parking lot as a freshman, and now travels to Watsonville High School for meets. While the school welcomes its rivals, it’s not home, she said.
“It’s been so long,” she said. “It’s unbelievable it’s finally coming true. The field will make it easier for everyone.”
The cost of the field will largely be covered by Measure L, a $150 million bond passed by voters in 2012, which was created to fund construction, repair and maintenance projects throughout the district.
Former PV High football coach Joe Gregorio, who rallied with students in support of the bond, said the new field will be an essential part of the school.
“I grew up in Watsonville,” he said. “If it wasn’t for sports and the coaches and the wonderful teachers we have in this district, I might have gone down a different path.”
Gregorio praised PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez, Maintenance director Victor Sandoval and former principal Alison Niizawa, who he said were instrumental in cutting through the red tape that has long stymied the project.
“When they got hired, things changed,” he said. “They did a lot of great things to make this happen.”
Construction was delayed when the Watsonville Pilots Association filed a lawsuit claiming that the original plans placed a proposed athletic facility in the path of a runway at Watsonville Municipal Airport (WPA), creating a danger in the event of an emergency landing or crash.
The WPA dropped its objections when PVUSD agreed to relocate the field in the school’s footprint.
PV High’s field also had to pass muster with a bevy of local and state officials.
This included Watsonville Wetlands Watch and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The California Coastal Commission required three separate environmental impact reports, since the school is located adjacent to fragile wetland habitat.
Felicia Davidson, who graduated in 2015 and was active in student-led efforts to spur the district to begin construction, said the news was “overwhelming emotionally,” but added that she is still skeptical. She was told that her class would hold its graduation on the school’s field.
“They told us this before,” she said.
Still, Davidson said she is proud of the students, parents, teachers and community members who pushed for the project.
“I’m feeling relief that all our efforts – and those who came before us – didn’t come for nothing,” she said.
PV High Athletic Director Joe Manfre said the project is “a long time coming.”
“I think it’s going to be a humongous step for our school in a number of ways,” he said.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
School opens >> Pajaro Valley High welcomes in its first class of students, promises athletic fields in new future
Bittersweet >> First PVHS graduation held off-site and every subsequent year after that
Students push for Measure L >> Measure L overwhelmingly passes. It included upgrades, repairs, new construction projects at schools throughout the PVUSD. It was believed construction on projects would begin shortly thereafter
PVHS students hold town hall, WPA vows lawsuit >> Watsonville Pilots Association spokesman Dan Chauvet argues plans to place proposed athletic field in the path of runway 2-0 at Watsonville Municipal Airport creates danger in the event of an emergency landing or crash. If the stadium were full of people, the results would be an “absolute catastrophe,” Chauvet said.
PVUSD to begin construction in Aug. 2017 >> Project costs, then estimated at $19.3 million, were to be covered in part by $18.4 million in Measure L funds. The remainder to be covered by one-time funds from Proposition 58, said PVUSD Director of Maintenance, Operations & Facilities Victor Sandoval.
WPA drops objections >> Pilots withdraw long-held objections to construction, while school district agrees to modified version of plans. Specifically, pilots association contacted PVUSD after district proposed designing, locating development within existing footprint of the school without lights.
Officially official >> Watsonville Planning Commission and City Council approve plans; PVUSD trustees approve Kent Construction to manage work
At last >> Trustees unanimously approve price tag of $12,898,450.78 for long-awaited field. Trustees float idea of naming Field for Willie Yahiro.
Editor's Note: This article will publish in the April 12 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.