Santa Maria High School District Project Will Grow Career, Ag Education

Ceremony Monday marks start of construction for new learning facilities that will include barn and farmng areas

Student looking at plans for new ag campus.
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With construction equipment parked nearby, a Righetti HIgh School FFA student looks at the design for the new Career Technical Education Center & Ag Farm in Santa Maria on Monday afternoon. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Despite warm temperatures, the distinctive blue jackets worn by FFA members were out in force Monday to celebrate the start of construction for the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District’s new campus to grow its ag and career programs.

The Career Technical Education Center & Ag Farm will sit on 25 acres east of Highway 101, just north of the Santa Maria Elks/Unocal Center. 

Approximately 100 people, including FFA students from three campuses in the district, gathered for the ceremony, a week before the start of the new school year for the district.

Superintendent Mark Richardson read the first part of the FFA creed spelling out support for agriculture, saying the words were emblematic of the project.

“We’re creating a state-of-the-art facility that will improve education in our community through the development of the facility and subsequent career technical education programs,” he added. “We are putting the comprehensive back in a comprehensive high school education.” 

As the first district-wide ag farm, the campus also will have lab classrooms offering courses in topics such as diesel systems, construction trades, culinary arts and health sciences.  

“These programs will all be taught by highly qualified instructors, and our students will have access to the most up-to-date equipment available,” said John Davis, assistant superintendent of instruction. 

Students will receive instruction, training and even industry certification to ensure they are prepared for college or careers upon high school graduation, Davis added.

“What we want to do is offer the kids every opportunity they can have,” said Dominick Palera, a high school district board member. 

Man speaking at podium.
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Superintenent Mark Richardson speaks Monday during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District’s new Career Technical Education Center & Ag Farm. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The new programs will offer a second pathway for students who might not want to attend college but instead pursue careers in the community, he said. 

Construction began several weeks ago and should be done in December 2019. 

In addition to classroom and workshop space, the center will include a fully equipped commercial teaching kitchen. Another 6,110 square feet will be covered patio space with removable corral/bleachers.

An ag barn, at 16,000 square feet, will have pens to house 15 steer, 32 pigs, four sows and eight goats or sheep. 

Livestock corrals will fill another 7 acres while 11 acres will be use used for farming. 

Without a school farm, students unable to house their animals must find space in the community.

“There will be so many opportunities for them to keep their animal here, to practice their mechanics, but also their farming,” said Max Guerra, a Righetti High FFA president.

The campus can accommodate 500 students, who will be bused from the district's high schools to participate in the unique programs. 

Funding for the $19.9 million project will come from the district's two bond measures adopted by voters, Measure C2004 for $79 million and Measure H2016 for $114 million.

Although the district once planned to use the funding to build a new comprehensive high school to ease overcrowding, a number of factors led to switching gears, according to the district’s oversight committee for reviewing bond expenditures.

In the spring 2012, the school board spelled out its changed plans, saying the district had experienced stagnant enrollment. They also cited the creation of Orcutt Academy High School, a charter school in the Orcutt Union School District.

Rather than create a comprehensive campus to house 2,000 students to ease overcrowding, district leaders revealed plans to create the special center focused on educating students for careers in agriculture and other fields.

The new campus is the latest construction project for the district, which also has seen the completion of a classroom building at Santa Maria High and new performing arts center at Pioneer Valley High in recent years.

A new a 38-classroom building is under construction at Righetti High, with plans for students and teachers to occupy it in early 2019. 

“We’re excited about what has been accomplished, but we’re even more excited about what the future holds for our district,” Richardson said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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