SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- At long last, the gleaming new Agricultural Education and Career Technical Education campus is finally welcoming Santa Maria Valley students.
Last week, the first students walked onto the campus, marking the start of new era of education for local high school students.
"This is a major step forward for our service to our community and our students," said Paul Robinson, Santa Maria Joint Union High School District (SMJUHSD) Director of Career Technical Education. "All of the teachers have already gotten feedback from some of the students in terms of how excited to be here. We've had staff email us talking about us how excited some of the students are, the quality of the shops and the machines their working with and technology their working with, so it's very positive so far."
The $26.2 million, 25-acre property sits adjacent to the Santa Maria Elks Unocal Event center, just outside the Santa Maria city limits.
The state-of-the-art facility features a number of buildings that house vocational classrooms, workshops, an industrial kitchen, as well as a barn and livestock pens.
Currently, there are two classes subjects being taught, construction shop and machine shop. Others such as diesel shop, culinary arts and agriculture will be phased in over the coming school years.
Students that complete machine shop courses will receive credit at Allan Hancock College.
"They'll walk out of here with certifications and they'll walk out of here in most cases with concurrent enrollment credits from Allan Hancock College, so that's going to be a jumpstart to their careers at the high school level," said Robinson. "It's going to allow for them to provide for themselves and their families in a way we were not always able to prior."
For others, they may decide to pursue employment in a technical occupation immediately after high school.
"They can definitely leave here and and start entry level I would say at several places in town here," said teacher Dan Howard.
While some may move on to junior college or an immediate job, others may also establish a foundation to transfer to a four-year university.
"Whether they're going straight into industry, to junior college, or university, these programs are going to help them with their skill sets," said Robinson. "Education is about opening doors and this helps open career technical education training doors for them, which lead to high-demand, high-wage employment."
The district broke ground on the project more than three years ago in August 2018.
It was ready to go several months ago, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students were not allowed on campus due to health restrictions.
Now, it's finally ready to provide students within SMJUHSD, including Santa Maria, Righetti, Pioneer Valley and Delta high schools, with a variety of agricultural and technical educational opportunities.
"It is very unique," said Howard. "There's just a handful of these programs in California. There's nothing like this in its size, so it's a pretty unique opportunity."
The campus has the capacity to hold more than 500 students that will be bused in for two-hour blocks, three times a day.
Construction was paid through a pair of bond measures passed by Santa Maria Valley voters in 2004 and 2016.