Watsonville prep Gottschalks building
The former Gottschalks building, on the corner of Main and and West Beach streets, which has sat empty for the past decade, will soon be the home to Watsonville Prep School. — Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

WATSONVILLE—Watsonville’s newest charter school now has a permanent home, and a long-vacant building on the Main Street corridor will soon have a new tenant.

Watsonville Prep School, which opened in August with 180 kindergarteners, first- and second-grade students, plans to occupy the second floor of the Gottshalks building at 407 Main St. sometime in the latter half of 2020.

Navigator Schools, the nonprofit organization that runs Watsonville Prep School, made the announcement Friday.

“Having such a beautiful building to call home will provide stability and space for our students and families,” said Navigator Schools CEO Kevin Sved.

The new facility will allow the school to add one grade each year until it has an eighth grade and serves 565 students, Director of Engagement & Partnerships Kirsten Carr stated in a press release. 

Property owner Bill Hansen said that he is looking to develop the bottom half of the building into an “experiential shopping” facility similar to Jack London Square in Oakland.

“We are thrilled to have a school become the largest tenant of our flagship building on Main Street in downtown Watsonville,” Hansen said. “We have been working on this vision for years and couldn’t be more excited to assist in providing educational opportunities to all members of our community regardless of socioeconomic factors.”

The Gottschalks building has sat vacant since 2009, after the company filed for bankruptcy and the Watsonville location closed.

Navigator and the Hansen Family Trust have submitted plans to develop the upper floor of the property to the City of Watsonville.

“We are excited to see the former Gottschalks building coming back to life,” Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker said. “The addition of Navigator Schools will bring more jobs and people downtown, and combined with plans to redevelop the lower floor with new shopping and dining experiences, will serve as another building block in our efforts to revitalize downtown. As the economy shifts from big box retail to experience-based, these are the type of creative reuses that will help support a vibrant and healthy downtown.”

Navigator’s move into Pajaro Valley Unified School District did not come without controversy. Both the district trustees and the Santa Cruz County Board of Education denied its charter petition, but it was ultimately approved by the California State Board of Education.

The charter organization then demanded that PVUSD provide space for the new school – at a cost to the district – under a state law known as Proposition 39. They now occupy seven portable classrooms on the E.A. Hall Middle School campus.

PVUSD spokeswoman Alicia Jimenez said that the move will not cost the district anything, since it has already fulfilled its Prop. 39 requirements.

To help the school afford the space as it grows, the Hansen family provided a donation valued at $1.6 million over the first five years of the lease.

“We are so grateful to the Hansen family for their generosity and commitment to the community of Watsonville,” said Caitrin Wright, who volunteers as the chair of Navigator’s nonprofit Board. “We look forward to working with them to make their dream of creating a family-friendly downtown a reality.” 

Hansen and his company Pacific Coast Development have been at the forefront of the recent revitalization of Main Street. He also owns The Terrace apartment building at 445 Main St. The four-story development includes 54 apartments a Togo’s sandwich shop below.

He also owns the property at 558 Main St., where he plans to build a 72-unit, apartment building known as The Residence and about 3,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor.

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA. https://pajaronian.com/r-p-reporter-honored-by-csba/


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