SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A new Career Technical Education Center and Ag Farm is beginning to take shape just outside Santa Maria.
When completed, it will give Santa Maria Joint Union High School District (SMJUHSD) students educational opportunities unlike any other on the Central Coast.
"This is very unique," said Gary Wuitschick, SMJUHSD Director/Support Services. "You won't find this anywhere else in the county right now or geographic area. It's an amazing thing, particularly since we're integrating with the local education on top of that, with Hancock and other facilities around here and working together."
The 25-acre campus is located next to the Santa Maria Elks Unocal Event Center, right across the freeway from Righetti High School.
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.
It will provide students from all four SMJUHSD (Santa Maria, Righetti, Pioneer Valley, Delta) with state-of-the-art facilities and equipment where they will learn entry-level skills and training in the fields of agriculture, mechanics, culinary, construction and medicine.
"It's all about hands-on, project-based learning to take our career technical program to the next level and give kids real experience that ties into industry," said Paul Robinson, SMJUHSD Director of Career Technical Education. "For the students to be able to come out here and have that hands-on experience, it brings a whole new level of excitement to learning. It brings a whole new level of authenticity to learning that you don't always get in a traditional classroom setting or it's hard to replicate in those settings."
Wuitschick said construction is about 70 percent complete. He added work is on schedule and completion should happen by late December or early January.
First classes will be at the start of the next school year in August 2020, although Wuitschick added there will likely be activity in the livestock corrals next spring with students and animals preparing for next summer's Santa Barbara County Fair.
The project broke ground last August and will cost about $20 million.
"This is supported by a bond the community passed, so this is the community's dollars supporting their children and preparing our children for our community partners based on surveys, advisory groups on what we needed in this community, so it's our community making each other better," said Robinson.