WATSONVILLE — Nearly 15 years after students first walked onto its campus, with generations of athletes forced to practice at other schools, Pajaro Valley High School will break ground on its athletic field on April 15, PVUSD spokeswoman Alicia Jimenez confirmed Monday.
The groundbreaking event will be a long time coming for the school’s students, who have been demanding a field of their own for both sporting events and graduation ceremonies.
This includes repeatedly petitioning the PVUSD Board of Trustees and holding community forums. They also helped pass Measure L in 2012, the $150 million bond approved by Watsonville voters in 2012.
That bond funded most of the estimated $17.5 million for the field.
At the same time, district officials have faced their own battles, as they tried to adhere to city, state and federal regulations. This included environmental impact reports for building adjacent to a sensitive wetland.
The field was delayed for years after the Watsonville Pilots Association filed a lawsuit, claiming that the proposed site was in a so-called airport safety zone. The pilots also said that the lights from an athletic field could confuse or distract planes that try to land at the airport.
The pilots dropped their lawsuit in September 2017 after the district proposed designing and locating the project within the existing footprint of the school.
“There have been so many hoops and hurdles,” PV High track coach Andre Avila said. “It seems like every time we got over one hurdle, there were two more.”
Avila said that his students lose up to 40 minutes of practice time per day riding a bus to Watsonville High School for practice.
Avila, who has worked at the school for 12 years, said he started his time there recruiting freshman athletes with the promise of a sports field.
But that ended as years went by with his promise unfulfilled.
“After all of that, I’ve stopped mentioning it,” he said.
Avila said that he has seen more momentum for the project recently than ever before.
“I never gave up hope,” he said. “I’ve had this feeling over the past two years that we’re closer than ever.”
Still, he said he is taking a wait-and-see approach for the project.
“Once I see a tractor pushing dirt around, I’ll believe it,” he said.
PV High Athletic Director Joe Manfre said he is “thrilled” by the news.
“I am very excited,” he said. “I’m excited for the school, I’m excited for the kids and the staff, and I’m excited for the graduating classes.”
It’s not clear when the construction will wrap up, and district officials were not available Monday. The district has estimated it will take about 14 months.