SANTA MARIA, Calif. – There were plenty of smiles to go around on Monday morning during an event years in the making.
"It's a momentous occasion I think here on the Central Coast in that we're actually on the ground developing career technical education (CTE) programs that will benefit our kids in the future," said Santa Maria Joint Union High School District (SMJUHSD) Superintendent Mark Richardson.
On a construction site, immediately north of the Santa Maria Elks Unocal Event Center, dozens of people gathered to celebrate the ceremonial groundbreaking of what will become the SMJUHSD Career Technical Education Center/Ag Farm.
"It's an exciting day," said school board member Dominick Palera. "This is the day for the future. The future begins now for career technical education in the Santa Maria area."
The site of the future facility sits on former agriculture land, just off of Morningside Drive, close to the northbound Santa Maria Way off-ramp.
The 25-acre property will house a number of buildings that will become the home of several vocational classrooms and workshops.
"Our programs here will be light-duty diesel mechanics, construction trade programs, healthcare, health field programs, machining and manufacturing, along with developing a culinary arts program and agriculture, with animal husbandry and crop science," said Richardson.
For Santa Maria education leaders, they have long envisioned career technical education as an important pathway for a large portion of students.
"We want to give the kids every opportunity to have not only to go on to higher education, but to have a career technical path for those who want to do something," Palera said. "What we've done is reach out to the community and see what jobs are available and those are the things that we're going to concentrate as we offer their career technical pathways, something where they can learn a skill, stay in the community, earn a good income and we won't lose these valuable next generation to other communities."
Funded through a pair community-passed bonds, C-2004 Bond Funds and Measure H of 2016, the project will cost about $20 million.
"On behalf of all FFA students in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, we are extremely grateful for those in our community who contribute to what we are passionate about and what we care about and are really helping us prepare for our futures and these careers we choose to endeavor," said Pioneer Valley FFA student Baileigh Ruiz.
Ruiz was one of many local FFA students on hand for the Monday groundbreaking.
Even though the soon-to-be-senior will no longer be in high school when the center opens, she said she's excited to know it's coming to Santa Maria.
"It will give students the hands-on skills that they will need to be successful in these careers," Ruiz said. It's like taking a college course, but while you are in high school and it will really prepare you for those."
Like Ruiz, Ariadna Romero of Santa Maria High School will also not have the opportunity to learn in the new classrooms.
Still, she's happy future students, such as her younger brother, will get to learn in a state-of-the-art facility that will take CTE education to the next level.
"Knowing that other students will have the opportunity that I didn't have, but knowing others will, it's pretty exciting," Romero said. "In a classroom setting, we're not going to have what we're going to have here because here it's going to be hands-on. It's building connections and being together. I think it's really going to help instead of just being in a classroom."
When completed, the CTE Center/AG Farm will accommodate about 500 students and staff and be utilized by all four SMJUHSD schools.
The facility will include about nine acres of land that will be devoted to buildings, parking and roads, with 11 acres to feature prime agriculture land to be farmed by students. Seven acres will house livestock corrals.
The ag barn will include pens for steer, sows, pigs, goats and sheep.
The CTE workshop will total nearly 20,500 square feet and include four classrooms.
A 5,750 square foot CTE pavilion will house two classrooms, a fully equipped commercial kitchen and covered patio with removable corral and bleachers.
"It's about hands-on learning. It's about teaching kids skills in high school that they can go out in the world and be competitive in the job world," Richardson said. "This is providing kids with an opportunity for higher education, but also creating a program where they can get that hands-on learning and take that skill-set out into the world. It is a more advanced program."
Construction for the center is already underway. It is scheduled to be completed by December 2019.
The first classes inside the new CTE center will be held starting August 2020.