Declining enrollment and aging classrooms prompted the Merced River School District to shutter its historic Hopeton School in Snelling, consolidating both its campuses to Washington School in Winton in the fall.
About 55 Hopeton students in grades transitional kindergarten through third will join Washington’s older students in fourth through eighth grade, making for a single school campus with just under 150 students, according to a news release from the Merced County Office of Education.
Richard Lopez, the Merced River superintendent, hopes the consolidation will draw more students and help the district move to a 1:1 computer curriculum.
“Our motto is a public school with a private school attitude,” Lopez said in a news release. “We have had a good response from parents over the changes we have made.”
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The district has experienced a decline in enrollment since a Gallo farming operation shut down and families who were employed there moved away.
About 20 years ago, the district enrolled about 300 students, Lopez said. As that number has dwindled over the years, there’s been consistent talk of consolidating the two campuses.
A new wing with four classrooms at Washington School will be complete next month to accommodate the incoming Hopeton students. Other buildings at the school will be modernized, and new student and faculty restrooms will be built. The upgrades were funded through a $1.8 million 2014 bond passed by voters.
The district also plans to use money from a $500,000 hardship grant from the state to modernize another wing at Washington.
The Hopeton campus, which dates to the 1880s, will be mothballed. Lopez hopes another education organization such as UC Merced, Merced College or Merced Union High School District will lease the site to use it for 4-H or FFA programs. Hopeton includes five classrooms, a teacher lounge, cafeteria and playground on its 5 acres.
Helio Brasil, superintendent at McSwain Union Elementary School District who previously led Merced River School District, said consolidating campuses is cost-effective. While schools have been maintained, aging classrooms must be upgraded since many do not meet technology standards.
“As a community, board and administration, we all felt our schools are the most important assets in our community and should be our No. 1 priority,” Brasil said. “While our teachers and staff do their best in educating our children, many classrooms and school facilities at the Merced River School District are outdated and inadequate to provide students with the facilities they need to succeed.”