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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 4:05 pm | Fair 55º

 
 
 
 
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School Board OKs $300,000 in Bond Funds for Santa Barbara High Outdoor Classroom Project

Campus asks district to fund shortfall after cost estimates almost double to $842K for new horticulture and environmental sciences outdoor classroom and shade structure

Santa Barbara High School Principal John Becchio shows the space planned for a new oudoor classroom/shade structure building near the vegetable garden and greenhouse used for environmental science classes.
Santa Barbara High School Principal John Becchio shows the space planned for a new oudoor classroom/shade structure building near the vegetable garden and greenhouse used for environmental science classes.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

An outdoor classroom and shade structure project for Santa Barbara High School’s horticulture and environmental science program is being jointly funded by private donations and the school district.

But cost estimates rose dramatically since the fundraising effort started, prompting the school board Tuesday night to allocate $300,000 in facilities improvement bond money to make up the shortfall.

The Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education approved the action 4-1, with board members Gayle Eidelson, Monique Limon, Kate Parker and Pedro Paz supporting it and Ed Heron opposed.  

The storage and classroom structure will be used for teacher Jose Caballero’s classes.

His students have included the three children of Ron and Stacy Pulice, who initiated the project and pledged $500,000 to getting it built. The Howard and Rhodes families have contributed another $50,000 between them, Ron Pulice said. 

The Foundation for Santa Barbara High School received the Board of Education’s permission to fundraise $500,000 for the project in December. It met that goal, but the estimated cost rose to $842,000. 

Designs were reviewed by the Division of the State Architect, and the requirements to make the building as earthquake-safe as possible increased the cost, district facilities director David Hetyonk said.

Some of the changes were beyond the architect’s control, Hetyonk said. Parker said cost overruns happen on almost all of the district’s construction projects, even when no private partnership is involved.

The Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education approved $300,000 for an outdoor classroom and shade structure project at Santa Barbara High School. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education approved $300,000 for an outdoor classroom and shade structure project at Santa Barbara High School. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

In a comment during Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, Ron Pulice said the required substructure is what drove up the cost, calling it “way overbuilt.”

“I have built bridges that don’t have the understructure this building does,” he said.

There was a dilapidated shed, put up without a permit and demolished for structural issues, and without any building there, the horticulture class was canceled, Principal John Becchio said.

That increases the urgency to get the project funded and construction started, he added.

Added to the existing greenhouse and garden area, the outdoor classroom will be a place for students to connect with something at school outside of academics and gain life experience, he said.

Parker and Limon both asked what projects would go unfunded if the $300,000 is given to this building. 

Hetyonk said no specific bond-funded project would be eliminated, but there will be a smaller pool available for underfunded projects or future projects the board wants to support.

Roofing improvements at San Marcos High School and Goleta Valley Junior High School, for example, were underfunded by more than $1 million and in San Marcos' case, didn't get finished, Hetyonk said. 

All of the board members supported the project, including Heron, but some were frustrated with the unexpected increase and that district bond money is now being requested.

The project wasn't on the priority list to be funded by Measure Q, which raised $75 million for secondary schools. 

Having a private party – in this case, parents – involved in the design process results in this “staggered approach,” Cash said.

The district could always take control of the process and just tell people to send money, not input, but that didn’t happen for this project, he said.

In his dissenting vote, Heron said he supports the project but is bothered by the huge increase in the cost estimate.

It’s unlikely this project is next in line for the bond-funded priority project list, he said.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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