As Yountville Elementary School prepares to shut its doors for the final time on June 5, parents and town leaders are pondering an outdoor art installation that would preserve the memory of the place that taught the community’s children for generations.
A proposal by school principal Tara Bianchi would sponsor a public artwork that would pay tribute to Yountville Elementary, which has operated at least since the early 1880s.
Tuesday night, members of the Town Council lent their support to the plan, and outlined a path toward committing to a design and location for the installation by May, about a month before the Yountville school – along with Mt. George Elementary east of Napa – permanently close as the Napa school district tries to close a budget deficit.
The idea of a commemorative art piece arose after the Napa Valley Unified School District board voted in October to shut down the Yountville and Mt. George grade schools – the system’s smallest by enrollment – to save $1.2 million a year.
Yountville Elementary, the smaller of the schools, enrolls some 120 children from kindergarten through the fifth grade, with the majority residing outside of town under NVUSD’s open-enrollment policy.
In the months before the decision to wind down the Yountville school, parents and residents alike had defended it as an essential part of the town’s culture. With the campus’s days now numbered, an art piece could become a lasting tribute to the school and a final project for its parent-teacher association, according to Samantha Holland, Yountville parks director.
Although no design has been chosen for a school-themed artwork, concepts discussed by parents, town staff and the Yountville Arts Commission in recent weeks have included incorporating the school acronym YES or copying the handprints that graduating students have left on a school wall for more than 25 years, said Holland.
Among possible sites for a sculpture are two unused ground pads in front of the old school building on downtown Yount Street, which now serves as Town Hall and stands next to the current campus built in 1977, she told the council.
Such homespun details in an artwork appealed to Councilmember Margie Mohler. “Thinking through the concepts of handprints, I think it’s very meaningful to Yountville and all the past students,” she said, adding that a piece honoring the school should be more than a monument and include an interactive element to engage passers-by.
The council supported forming a committee of school leaders, arts commissioners and two council members to help settle on an artist, design and site for a tribute piece.
“This is a great idea and there will be no shortage of ideas what it should look like, what it should be made of, and where it should go,” said Mayor John Dunbar, who predicted a committee can more quickly sort through different art types and concepts for the installation.
A Yountville Elementary tribute would become the town’s third prominent outdoor artwork in the past three years, following the 2017 debut of “The Memory of a Tree” double mural at the Highway 29 underpass at California Drive and the dedication of “Faces of Freedom,“ a monument honoring U.S. service members, for Veterans Day 2018.
The site of Yountville’s earliest school is uncertain but may have been on a 5-acre tract east of Yount Street, where an existing one-room schoolhouse received an addition in 1881, according to a 2015 article by the Napa County Historical Society. Classes moved around 1920 into a tile-topped Mission Revival structure, which was converted into the seat of government after Yountville Elementary moved into a new building next door more than half a century later.