The unanimous, across-the-board vote was a foregone conclusion Tuesday night at the Santa Barbara School District’s Board of Education meeting, the culmination of more than 25 years of effort by boardmembers, superintendents, community advocates, and lawmakers to purchase — for $11.6 million — the California National Guard armory, a 27,000-square-foot landmark building on nearly five acres situated directly between Santa Barbara Junior High and Santa Barbara High School. Boardmembers sounded off their vote in unison, “Aye!” and the district’s longtime attorney, Craig Price, responded, “Wow!”
“This will be a great deal for the [district and] the entire Santa Barbara community,” said Lanny Ebenstein (pictured), who requested that the district explore the idea in 1991, when he was a boardmember. “This creates the possibility for a single, 60-acre educational complex.” Originally, he added, the site was considered for an elementary school. But since then, the focus has evolved into partnering, especially with Santa Barbara City College, to develop technical education programs. “Superintendent Cary Matsuoka thinks the discussion should include Cal State Channel Islands, which is also a good idea,” Ebenstein said. Boardmember Kate Parker spoke of the armory being used “for a broad community purpose … to benefit the entire South Coast.”
While district voters in 2016 approved a $135 million facilities bond — Measure I — which earmarked $20 million to purchase and renovate the armory, “we do know it will [cost] more than $20 million,” said former boardmember Ed Heron, a supporter of the acquisition, referring, in part, to expenses associated with seismically outdated historic buildings. “Where is it going to come from and how long will it take? It’s only fair to say … that it will stay vacant quite a while before a student steps foot on it. The public needs to be aware [of that].” If escrow closes as planned, the district will have the keys by December 31.