MG Charles A. Ott Jr. Armory (Sept. 20, 2016)
Paul Wellman

“and they beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” —Isaiah 2:4

These words from the Book of Isaiah serve as a fitting introduction to the successful effort by the Santa Barbara Unified School District to acquire the National Guard Armory on Canon Perdido Street, immediately between Santa Barbara High School and Santa Barbara Junior High. This opportunity will create the largest, continuous, single public education site within the City of Santa Barbara, stretching five blocks north to south from Anapamu to Cota Street, and three blocks east to west from Milpas to Olive Street.

The Armory will serve our community for decades — perhaps centuries — to come. Santa Barbara High School has been located on its current site since 1924, and Santa Barbara Junior High School on its site since 1932. There is no reason why in 2110 or 2115 children will not use the existing Armory site as they now use Santa Barbara High School and Santa Barbara Junior High.

The National Guard originally bought the Armory site from the community for $1, and the SBUSD is now buying the property back for $11.6 million. Some might see this as a good deal for the National Guard, but this is not our perspective. The fact is that the National Guard site will become among the most used properties in Santa Barbara. It is a complete city block and has more than 27,000 square feet of buildings on it — some of which are historic landmarks. Though millions of dollars will be required over time to rehabilitate and renovate the Armory, these will be funds well-spent. The final product has the potential to be a hub and center of Santa Barbara’s educational system. More than 3,000 students currently attend Santa Barbara Junior High and High School in 7th through 12th grades.

We believe there should be an inclusive and deliberate master planning process for the Armory site. It should be integrated not just with Santa Barbara High School and Santa Barbara Junior High, but other public and private nonprofit facilities in the immediate vicinity, including Ortega Park, Girls Inc., the Boys and Girls Club, and the Santa Barbara Bowl. Serious consideration should be given to closing De la Guerra Street between Santa Barbara Junior High and the Armory to expand play fields. Similarly, closure of some of Quarantina Street between the Armory and the Boys and Girls Club would allow expansion of the field here. The existing Armory buildings should be preserved, upgraded, and made safe. The huge lamella ceiling auditorium/gymnasium in the main Armory building — more than 11,000 square feet in itself — should be made accessible for future generations of Santa Barbarans.

For decades, the Armory has been little used by the National Guard or anyone else. It has, frankly, been an eyesore and a community hindrance. It can now become something far different — and much better. The 4.7 acres of the existing Armory site, together with possible additional land in some adjacent streets that could be incorporated into the final plan, constitute the most significant addition to civic property and infrastructure in Santa Barbara for decades. Both the California National Guard and the Santa Barbara Unified School District should be commended for their successful effort to return this one-of-a-kind property to community use.

Lanny Ebenstein and Todd Capps are longtime members of the community and participants in civic endeavors.


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