Former Hancock College President/Superintendent Ann Foxworthy said one of her first memories of the school’s Lompoc Valley campus was an invasion it endured shortly after opening.

Foxworthy said her office fielded several calls in the spring of 1999 about a massive number of caterpillars taking over the campus.

The bugs — and their remains — could be seen crawling up the sides of buildings and covering sidewalks.

“I had not experienced, I guess, living with oak trees,” Foxworthy said Thursday while surrounded by those same oaks on a courtyard at the campus. “Somebody had to explain to us, this is something that naturally happens every seven years or something like that and [we need to] just get over it.

“If that’s the worst problem that can happen,” she added, “you can see that we’re really blessed to have such a wonderful facility here.”

Foxworthy made the comments Thursday while joined by other past and present Hancock College leaders and staff members who were on hand to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Lompoc Valley Center.

Kevin Walthers, Hancock’s current superintendent/president, opened the short ceremony by reflecting on the campus’s rocky start.

The Lompoc Valley Center was initially slated to be funded with money from a statewide bond measure in 1994, but that bond was rejected by voters.

The following year, however, then-Senator Jack O’Connell lobbied for $75 million in state funding to be included in the state budget for community college facilities projects.

Construction of the Lompoc Valley Campus was the most expensive project in that funding plan, which was ultimately signed into the state budget in 1995.

Construction of the Lompoc Valley Center was then completed in 1999.

The biggest addition to the campus was jump-started in 2006 when Santa Barbara County voters approved Measure I, which was used to fund the $38 million Public Safety Training Complex on the south end of the campus.

That 68-acre facility, which is used to train emergency responders, opened in 2014.

There was some debate at the time over whether the Public Safety Training Complex should be built so far away from the college’s main campus in Santa Maria, but Walthers said Thursday that he felt the college’s governing board “made the right decision and we were able to build a facility that we could’ve never built on 12 acres in Santa Maria.”

“And it’s proved to be a state-of-the-art training facility that people come to from all over the state,” he said.

Thursday’s ceremony wasn’t only about the past, however.

Walthers said the college is looking at ways to better serve Lompoc-area students and that the Lompoc Valley Center would play a central role in the Guided Pathways Project, a state initiative that, according to its website at www.caguidedpathways.org, aims to “help 20 California community colleges implement an integrated, institution-wide approach to student success.”

“Our commitment to the Lompoc community is we’re going to make pathways here in Lompoc so that we know students can come here and finish their degrees in a two-year time frame,” Walthers said.

“As it is, students can get a degree here without ever having to go to Santa Maria, and we’re proud of that,” he added, “but we need to make it a little more streamlined and we’re committed to doing that.”

Roger Welt, who was the first dean at the Lompoc Valley Center, noted that another anniversary celebration would need to be planned five years from now.

A time capsule, he said, was buried near a flagpole in 1999 with a planned opening on the center’s 25-year anniversary.

Welt, who called those first years a “labor of love,” ended his address with one of the school’s most popular refrains.

“Go Bulldogs,” he said.

While a proposed bill to change the legal standard for law enforcement's use of deadly force recently cleared a key committee vote in the California legislature, the Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriffs' Association has thrown its support behind an alternative bill that is scheduled for its first public hearing on Tuesday. 

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.