School District Closes In on Armory Purchase

Board Vote Set for October 23

California National Guard’s armory
Paul Wellman (file)

With the price set at $11.6 million, Santa Barbara Unified School District is close to signing escrow paperwork and wiring a $580,000 down payment to purchase the California National Guard’s armory, a 27,000-square-foot landmark building (pictured) on 4.7 acres of East Canon Perdido Street. Details of the agreement struck between the district and the State of California, which has owned the property since the 1930s, were discussed Tuesday at the Board of Education meeting, with a vote expected on October 23. If approved, the purchase will culminate decades of effort by the district to acquire the property.

“Just to realize that we are on the verge [of owning] an entire city block,” reflected Superintendent Cary Matsuoka, referring to adding the armory parcel, situated between Santa Barbara Junior High and Santa Barbara High School. “[The district] will own property from Cota all the way up to Anapamu Street. It’s really the opportunity of a lifetime for this community. It’s really been a 25-year conversation, and we get to be part of closing the deal.”

District leaders past and present have cited years of unsuccessful back-and-forth discussions with the state. However, in 2016, as the state moved to put the armory ​— ​and a handful of similar properties across the state ​— ​on the open market, then-assemblymember Das Williams introduced legislation that essentially gave the district the right of first refusal. The district exercised that option early last year. Since then, the district appraised the property at $12.35 million. But with follow-up due diligence on the condition of the property and associated renovation costs, for example, to retrofit a landmark public building that would be filled with children and teachers, district leaders had hoped the state would drop its price, to no avail. “I want to congratulate the board and Cary for bringing the district to this point,” said former boardmember Lanny Ebenstein, adding that the price is “reasonable and fair.”

A draft purchase agreement indicates that the land and buildings are being sold as is, “with all faults, and there is no warranty, expressed or implied, regarding the condition of the property.” Specifically, a staff report points to “the continuing presence of lead dust stemming from an indoor firing range, seismic issues relating to current structural code requirements, and potential soil liquefaction.” The report also states, “Because the enabling legislation bases the purchase price on the state’s appraisal, without allowance for negotiations, the final purchase price is firmly fixed at $11.6 million.” Approved by voters in 2016, the $135 million Measure I facilities bond earmarked $20 million for the purchase and renovation of the 730 East Canon Perdido Street property.

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