A new high school with an emphasis on technical careers and agriculture education has moved one step closer to being built in the Santa Maria Valley.
The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District board of trustees this week voted unanimously to authorize the district to enter into negotiations to pay $3.6 million for 25 acres on the outskirts of town, currently owned by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.
The vacant property, which has been used for agriculture, is north of the Elks Rodeo Grounds and east of Highway 101, and would be developed into agricultural education and career technical education centers to meet growing student population needs.
A new school, which will be paid for with part of the district’s $79 million Measure C-2004 bond and state-matching funds, was supposed to tentatively open in 2015 and cost $15 million.
Lack of available land was a main reason for the setback, according to Gary Wuitschick, district director of support services.
The district, which has four schools serving more than 7,000 students, previously had negotiations fall through for another possible property in northern Santa Maria at the corner of Preisker Lane and North Broadway.
That land was smaller and had two property owners, which makes the rural parcel an even greater find, Wuitschick said.
“It’s very exciting for the district,” he said. “It’s very hard to find any proper right within our area. This one really allows us to expand and do the things we need to do. It’s been a long journey.”
The district hopes the school would serve 400 to 500 students, especially those in the growing local agriculture field.
Students would be able to store their projects or fair animals in one centralized location — something they don’t have now — and could enroll in the Career Technical Education Center or Capstone Career Pathway courses.
Wednesday’s board approval starts the clock on a 12-month escrow period and extensive site assessments to ensure the property is fit for a school site.
Wuitschick said tests would be conducted for pesticides in the ground, oil and other environmental reviews, since an aeronautic analysis was already deemed complete.