WATSONVILLE — The saga surrounding the construction of sports fields and a performing arts center at Pajaro Valley High School might be in its final chapter.
Pajaro Valley Unified School District and the Watsonville Pilots Association unanimously approved an agreement that could allow construction to begin as early as spring, the district announced Wednesday.
Under the plan, the pilots withdrew their long-held objections to the construction, while the school district agreed to a modified version of the plans.
The announcement was a bit of good news in the packed Watsonville City Council Chambers, which was filled with teachers who came to demand raises at the board meeting ahead of a budget adoption.
“The District is thrilled its work with the Pilots Association will pave the way forward for these critical construction projects, and the whole team is very excited PVHS’s students will finally be able to enjoy the complete high school experience,” said PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez. “We are dedicated to exploring all avenues that would facilitate additional progress in that direction.”
The plans must now be filed with the California Coastal Commission.
The plan has also faced scrutiny from the Caltrans Division of Aeronautics. That agency sent a letter in opposition to the project in December 2016, stating that the city does not have a general plan that complies with the State Aeronautics Act.
But with the objections of the WPS withdrawn — and the revised plans — Rodriguez said she expects the Division of Aeronautics to withdraw its objections.
“The beauty of this proposal is that we’re going to actively partner with the Watsonville Pilots Association,” she said.
The final step will be approval by the Watsonville City Council, which has in the past supported the project, despite the possibility of lawsuits.
According to Rodriguez, the pilots association contacted PVUSD after the district proposed designing and locating the development within the existing footprint of the school.
That means that construction will not occur on the undeveloped nine-acre tract of land adjacent to the school, said John Randolph, legal affairs liaison with the Watsonville Pilots Association.
In addition, the sports facilities will not include lights, meaning that the school cannot have nighttime games. That was a concession to pilots concerned about distractions from stadium lights during nighttime flights, Randolph said.
But state laws protecting wildlife already prohibit placing lights at the site, which is adjacent to Watsonville Slough, Randolph said.
“We just want people to follow the law and be safe,” he said.
In addition, the district will spend $100,000 to help the pilots reduce the trees, power poles and other obstructions in the path of the runway that make low approaches to the runway difficult, Randolph said.
That would allow the pilots to be beyond the school when making low-altitude landings, he said.
“If we can be down lower, we can be past the school before we decide it’s safe to land,” he said.
Randolph gave credit for the agreement for the plan former WPA legal affairs liaison Dan Chauvet, who he said worked for 20 years to find a compromise that worked for the city, airport and school district.
“Dan felt there was a way to adjust the plan to make it work,” he said. “This agreement makes it safe enough.”
The athletic field project will replace existing fields with an updated regulation size track and football field facility, with accompanying press box and concession stand.
The 15,000-square-foot, 450-seat auditorium will be used for a variety of school functions, including visual and performing arts performances.
Project costs, estimated at $19.3 million, are covered in part by $18.4 million in Measure L funds.
For information, visit www.pvusd.net/construction.