It appears there will be no graduation for Mokelumne River High School this year, as the K-12 private campus has permanently closed its doors. The school is closed and the property up for sale.
It's not clear exactly what happened to the campus, which operated on the same site along Highway 99 in Acampo for more than a decade. It was the focus of a large asbestos remediation in 2008.
"It's a very bizarre situation," Realtor Cary Pope said Tuesday. "When I got access and went over there, it was a sunny afternoon on a breezy day. Everything is still in there. It's like they got up and walked out to go out to lunch."
Classrooms behind the chain-link fence are still filled with desks, books and audio-visual equipment, according to Pope.
The six-plus acre lot is currently listed for $640,000 and is being offered by PMZ Commercial Realty in Lodi. Pope, who started marketing the property about 30 days ago, said that it was previously foreclosed on. He declined to name the owner.
The property is not in bad shape, but over the winter the leaves have piled up and the landscape let go.
He's hoping to find another school to buy the site.
Four years ago last month, it became public that asbestos might be present on the campus.
The San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District looked into a complaint from a parent at the school in February 2008. Officials investigated and found that no friable or flaking material was present, meaning no asbestos was being disturbed or moving into the air.
"There was no danger. There was no issue as far as the well being of students and staff," supervising air quality inspector Ronald Giannone said this week. "If the school closed after, it could not have been because of this."
But in October 2008, Superintendent Shannon Woodard said that asbestos material was located along the roof line above one of the classroom, and that the cleanup process was going well. She told a reporter during a tour that students would be able to return to classes within two weeks, as long as air quality tests proved it was safe to do so.
Several parents and teachers claimed that school officials had tried to cover up the asbestos find, and that the school wouldn't pay for an adequate cleanup. Some accused then-school board president and campus owner Clifford Goehring of failing to give parents, students and board members early notice that there was an asbestos problem at the school.
At the time, he conceded that he could have handled the situation better. He said in March 2008 that when workers told him about the asbestos he didn't take it seriously enough, but he denied trying to cover it up.
Neither Goehring nor a number of former teachers could be reached for comment for this story. Woodard also could not be reached.
The removal cost the school about $50,000, plus another $20,000 for supplies for subsequent building updates, and gave administrators an opportunity to update light fixtures, wall paint, carpeting and other cosmetic upgrades. Additionally, the wood overhangs were replaced with metal sheeting, Woodard said at the time.
It's not clear when the school stopped holding classes at the Acampo campus. It did, however, graduate a senior class last spring.
The school is no longer listed in an online database as a member of the Association of Christian Schools International, or the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Ultimately, former administrator Nadine Zerbe was joined by 10 teachers and five board members who left and decided to form their own school. Lodi Christian School opened across Highway 99 the following fall.
Zerbe declined comment on just what caused the split.
"People were looking for an alternative and wanted to continue in Christian education," she said. "I believe our school has answered a need, and God has blessed us, and I don't want to do anything to jeopardize that."
Mokelumne's enrollment went from 400 students at its high point down to about 70 in October 2008.
Richard Lacy's children attended elementary school there, and he served on the school's parent-teacher board for a time.
"The year I left there, I remember there was a lot of controversial issues with the Goehrings, many parents upset with money," he said Wednesday of board members who shared the same surname.
Lacy encouraged parents and fellow board members to raise money for a gymnasium, but the $1 million estimated price tag was scoffed at, he said.
"There were so many issues on maintenance that I spent too much free time working on school grounds with very little help from (some) parents," Lacy said.
Shawn Hayes' children attended Mokelumne River from kindergarten to the fourth grade.
He said Goehring did a good job educating kids, but parents got involved and the environment became emotional. Since moving to Lodi Christian School, where his children are now enrolled, his kids have been happy and thriving, he said.
"(The Goehrings) did the best job they could. They ran the school as economically as possible, which drove parents crazy. They wanted to know where their money was going," he said.
"They did a lot of good things with that school, but they lost their shirts on it."