The Pajaro River levee breach caused extensive water damage to all 10 of Pajaro Middle School’s buildings, including destroying all of the floors. While they continue to assess damages, school officials expect they’ll also have to replace many of the walls due to mold. They hope to start construction early next year and reopen the school to students by the 2024-25 school year.
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Pajaro Middle School students and teachers won’t be able to return to their campus for the 2023-24 school year while the district assesses, cleans and repairs damage from the March 11 breach of the Pajaro River levee that flooded the town of Pajaro.
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“We are hoping the entire process can be finalized so that we can welcome students back to the 2024-25 school year,” Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) spokesperson Alicia Jimenez said Thursday. “That is our hope — that we can start [construction] sometime early next year.”
The school’s seventh and eighth graders will continue at Lakeview Middle School in Watsonville — in Santa Cruz County, across the Pajaro River from the town of Pajaro, in northern Monterey County — for the 2023-24 academic year, while incoming sixth graders from Watsonville’s Ohlone and Hall District elementary schools will stay at those sites. Four Pajaro Middle School teachers will be reassigned to the elementary schools temporarily. Jimenez said having sixth graders stay at the elementary schools, where there is capacity for them, will help alleviate crowding at Lakeview.
The levee breach caused extensive water damage to all 10 of the school’s buildings, including destroying all of the floors, according to Jimenez. While they continue to assess damages, school officials expect they’ll also have to replace many of the walls due to mold.
PVUSD contracted with Servpro, a Santa Cruz-based cleanup and repair company, to start the multiphase process to reopen Pajaro Middle School. With the approval from the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, the district moved forward with the Servpro contract without bidding because of the unexpected damages and the need to begin repairs immediately. The district estimates that drying, cleaning and removal of items will continue through June.
After cleanup, the district will start developing plans for reconstruction of floors and walls — as well as anything else that comes from further assessments — and submit them to the Division of the State Architect officials, potentially in December. If all goes as hoped, the state agency will approve PVUSD’s plans in December, launching the bidding process — which could take a month — and then the construction phase. However, Jimenez said, the district is at the mercy of the state, which can also take up to several months to approve a request.
Jimenez said whatever the district’s insurance doesn’t cover for cleanup and repairs, it hopes to have covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Those costs include the $2.8 million contract for Servpro services including drying, cleanup and removal of items.
In the meantime, Jimenez said Pajaro Middle staff are working to ensure students maintain a sense of identity as panthers — the middle school’s mascot.
Students in one classroom painted a mural of a panther on the makeshift wall of their class.
Ebelin Mata, a sixth grade teacher at Pajaro Middle School, said while some students are adjusting well — noting how they like how Lakeview Middle is bigger — others are having a harder time.
“We’re all feeling the loss” of the school, Mata said.
She said what has been particularly challenging for some students is the longer commute to school.
“One student was sharing that he is thinking about moving to another school because it’s going to be really difficult for his parents to be bringing him every day next school year,” she said.
Lakeview has a capacity for 1,000 students but its enrollment has declined over the years to about 450 — enabling staff from Pajaro Middle to fit their more than 420 students on the campus over the past two months.
To accommodate the second school on the Lakeview campus this year, Pajaro Middle School starts one hour earlier and the students are on different schedules. Unused classrooms and spaces are now filled with Pajaro Middle students and their teachers as well as a makeshift library — all with the hope that students can continue to feel a sense of having their own school.
Jimenez said that next year, Pajaro Middle’s seventh and eighth graders will be on the same schedule as Lakeview Middle School students. With incoming sixth graders staying at the elementary schools, Pajaro Middle School will have about 300 students at Lakeview Middle for the upcoming school year.
When Pajaro Middle School reopens, all sixth through eighth grade students and all their teachers will return to the Pajaro campus.