Ribbon cutting of a (TETER-designed) new Juniper Elementary School.
Article originally published on August 05, 2023 by Merced Sun-Star reporter Shawn Jansen.
Atwater’s new Juniper Elementary School is ready to open: ‘It’s been a long time coming.’
District officials, City of Atwater and Merced County dignitaries, school staff, and community members were on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the campus on Friday evening.
The $30 million project is the first new school to open in the district since 1995. Construction took 18 months. It’s on 10 acres of land at Juniper Avenue and Bridgewater Street, in front of Joan Faul Park.
Juniper Elementary School will welcome 400 students when school starts August 16th.
“We’re beyond excited,” Atwater Elementary School District Superintendent Christy Lobao said. “It’s been a long time coming. We’ve planned and prepared, to imagine more than 400 students walking on this campus. It’s just an amazing day.”
$20 million dollars of the funds came from Measure E, a school improvement bond that voters passed in 2018. The additional $10 million came from money in the district’s budget that has been set aside for several years.
“It’s unbelievable,” Merced County Supervisor Daron McDaniel said. “The amount of money they spent to get this done. I don’t see how the county could do this well. For the price tag that they got, they got a lot for their money.”
The new school can serve about 600 students from Transitional Kindergarten through the sixth grade. There would be four classrooms for TK and kindergarten and twenty-one classroom serving first through sixth grade.
Juniper Elementary School features the first STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) lab on campus for any school in the district..
The school will also offer the first Dual Language Immersion program in the district in which students are taught Spanish and English with the ultimate goal of those students being bilingual and bi-literate by the time they finish the program.
Areas around the building are equipped with artificial turf as a climate-friendly feature that will cut down on noise pollution with no mowers needed. The school also features a multipurpose room, which includes a stage, lighting, and sound system. Outside there are two soccer fields and three playground areas.
“It’s funny because when they looked at this lot, they thought there was no way you can put a school in here. And now it’s amazing. It doesn’t look small at all,” said Principal Michele McCabe, who will begin her 33rd year in the district this fall.
Juniper Elementary School is the ninth school in the district and will help alleviate overcrowding at Atwater schools. It’s a project that has been on the works for years.
Sandra Schiber, who was the Atwater Elementary School superintendent from 2013 to 2022, applauded all the people in the district who helped make the school happen.
“We’ll forever share of being part of something that doesn’t happen very often,” Schiber said. “It was truly hardworking, dedicated, service-minded people who passed the bond measure and built the school for our community.”
“It’s my dream and prayer that the children who walk the halls of Juniper Elementary for decades to come will have the education the staff of Atwater Elementary strives to provide,” Schiber added.
The school will have 45 employees, which includes administrators, support staff, and faculty.
“We’re thrilled, we’ve actually been hard at work since July,” McCabe said. “We got together, started planning what our new community would look like and what it would celebrate. We’re all ready to go.”