Students from three Santa Maria high schools could gain access to a permanent, centralized space for their agriculture projects once district officials nail down a location.
Teachers and administrators in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District have for years been trying to find the biggest, best piece of land to accommodate the growing number of county fair and FFA projects of students at Santa Maria, Righetti and Pioneer Valley high schools.
The search could end in the district’s own backyard, where 1.5 acres of fenced-in dirt and wood chips has sat untouched behind the district office at 2560 Skyway Drive since officials bought the property in 1998.
That parcel also happens to be in the flight path of a Santa Maria Public Airport runway, which would require the state to sign off on the project because students would be using a site that sits within two nautical miles of an airport runway.
Plans took a baby step forward last month when the district brought the possibility of planning a new high school farm program campus (in land about 4,000 feet northeast of a runway) before the Santa Maria Public Airport District board of directors for their information.
Superintendent Doug Kimberly said the property is not the only local parcel the district is considering, but it seems like the best fit.
“At this point, it’s more of a front-runner,” Kimberly said. “Land’s not easy to find. We’re kind of just seeing what’s out there. We’re looking forward to having all our teachers in one place.”
Students working on animal and plant projects are typically spread on land all around the Santa Maria Valley.
Hector Guerra, an agriculture teacher at Pioneer Valley, said his students have been traveling to work on projects in Nipomo, Orcutt and the outskirts of Santa Maria since the school no longer occupies land on Telephone Road free-of-charge like it had for years.
“I was spread out all over the place, which made it a little difficult,” Guerra said.
Righetti students use property off of Clark Avenue in Orcutt for free now — though it’s recently gone up for sale by the owner — and Santa Maria High kids freely use land off of Main Street going toward Guadalupe.
Some students house animals or projects on their own properties or pay to use other land.
Available school plots are typically reserved for first- and second-year students who haven’t made enough contacts in the community to store animals or plants elsewhere.
More than 150 students take on projects each year, Guerra said, which could spell disaster if space can’t be found.
He said schools have been using plots between 2.5 acres and 5 acres, so moving into a 1.5 acre site would be difficult but not impossible.
“It’s a lot of kids to be able to keep in one place,” Guerra said. “It’s going to be tight. It’s all about building the skills.”
Kimberly said the district is still in the middle of its search, but Guerra said he would like to see a centralized farm program campus by next summer or school year.
“We’ve been looking for a while and come up short ... Now the pressure is on us,” Guerra said.