From Workers to Winemakers to Wise Men

As campus planners we often deal with the issue of things temporary and things permanent. We became keenly aware of this dichotomy when a Board of Trustees engaged Blanchard Group to develop a campus plan for a new school in “wine country” for the children of migrant workers.

The School’s founders came from two agricultural provinces, Michoacan and Jalisco, near Mexico City. Their fathers left for El Norte as migrant workers — some under the Bracero guest-worker program, others crossing the border illegally but gaining legal status in a time when papers were easier to come by.

They worked in California’s burgeoning agricultural industry before settling in wine country. They encountered some of valley’s most celebrated winemakers and contributed to California’s wine revolution in the 1970s and 1980s, a period that saw dramatic changes in viticulture and food culture as the United States became a wine-loving nation.

How can the form and organization of a campus convey lasting lessons to an often transient population?

Over time these workers became owners and then philanthropists with a strong desire to impart their important life lessons to the hundreds of less than privileged children who pass through the region on a regular basis. Some of these children stay for years, some keep moving with the seasons.

Planning a new campus is particularly challenging. Fundamentally, it requires a great deal of predictive planning — land uses in the near and long terms, patterns of program growth and change over time, incremental approaches to infrastructure capacities, and the like.

Beyond these table stake issues was the bigger question: How can the form and organization of a campus convey lasting lessons to an often transient population? This question was not lost on the members of the community with pride in their region, in their industry, and in themselves.

The site for this undertaking offered the most potent clues for addressing that question. Once owned by a family who employed hundreds of migrant workers, it is now owned by several of its former employees who fondly remember the small collection of buildings that still sit in the center of the property — a house, where they enjoyed Saturday evening dinner under the southern trellis with their families, Sunday services in the chapel, and the tower where the former owner would look over the valley’s vineyards and plot the next day’s work plan.

The form and organization of the campus with new buildings wrapping the tight cluster of existing structures make these site histories the centerpiece, their stories a permanent reminder of the values the shaped the people and the region — hard work, family, faith, and persistence. And yes, the School’s program includes evening dinners under the southern trellis, chapel services on Sundays, and a weekly trip to the tower for “stories of the valley.”