Santa Maria-Bonita school groundbreaking
Luke Ontiveros, superintendent of the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, talks to students about what features they hope to see at the 21st campus. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Home to 11 of the largest elementary schools in Santa Barbara County, a Santa Maria Valley school district on Thursday celebrated the start of construction for its “greatly needed” 21st campus.

The groundbreaking ceremony hosted by the Santa Maria-Bonita School District under sunny skies and in muddy dirt marked the second in six years in a bid to add schools and ease class overcrowding.

The new Measure T school, funded by a bond measure approved by voters in 2014, will sit on approximately 10 acres in the Enos Ranchos Specific Plan area. Specifically the school will be on the property between College, Shepard and Meehan drives. 

Santa Maria-Bonita also is home to 14 of the 15 largest elementary schools in the county, Superintendent Luke Ontiveros told the crowd, which included district staff, board members and city leaders. 

“So this is greatly needed for our community in terms of student housing in general,” he said, adding the district will adjust school boundaries eventually. “Although it won’t have a big effect it’s going to allow us an opportunity to reboundary and balance enrollment across the schools.

“But more importantly it gives an opportunity to create a dynamic new 21st century learning environment for the students of the Santa Maria-Bonita School District,” he added. 

The superintendent said he often likes to point out for shock value that students now enrolling to start kindergarten in August at the district’s other campuses will graduate from high school with the class of 2032.

Santa Maria-Bonita school groundbreaking

Superintendent Luke Ontiveros, far right, leads the groundbreaking ceremony for the 21st campus in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District Thursday.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“What we think 21st century learning is today will be remarkably different by 2032 and I’m excited at the opportunities that this facility will provide,” he said. 

Land acquisition, architectural designs, fees and construction add up to $48 million for the new school. Desks, computers, books and everything else necessary for a quality educational environment will cost another $2.5 million. About $30 million of the price tag will be paid for Measure T money.

If weather cooperates for construction, the two-story building designed by DLR Group will open in August 2020. The school is designed to house up to 900 students.

Retired educator Veda Flores, now board president, recalled getting to teach at then-new Ontiveros Elementary School, and said education empowers future generations.

“That is one of most important things a school does,” Flores said. “It anchors what we need to have to build a wonderful community.”

Santa Maria-Bonita school groundbreaking

The Measure T School for Santa Maria-Bonita School District will sit on approximately 10 acres near the southwest section of the Enos Ranchos Specific Plan area. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Several students from nearby Battles Elementary School shared what they want to see in a new school, offering up suggestions far from Common Core standards such as Starbucks, In-n-Out, Dunkin Donuts, dogs, Fortnite tournaments, kids’ lounge, free WiFi, chocolate foundation, money room and swimming pool.

Ontiveros asked students what they would add to a new school, before holding the microphone to a boy who suggested Takis and Hot Cheetos. 

“Takis and Hot Cheetos — important learning elements,” Ontiveros added.

AMG & Associates from Santa Clarita will handle construction and plans to install a project management trailer at the site within days.

“We are ramping up very very quickly,” said Albert M. Giacomazzi, president of AMG, adding the new school is his firm’s largest project. 

Santa Maria-Bonita school groundbreaking

Santa Maria-Bonita School Board President Veda Flores speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the new school on Thursday afternoon. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Before the new school opens, Giacomazzi said his team will import 35,000 cubic yards of soil and place 7,500 cubic yards of concrete for the foundation. By the time the project steel is erected, the structure will have 1.9 million pounds of steel.

AMG representatives also built the district’s 20th campus, now known as Jimenez Elementary School, which opened in August 2015. 

In the coming months, district officials will launch an effort to pick a name for the new school. 

Those in attendance for the groundbreaking ceremony Thursday included Phil Alvarado, retired superintendent who led efforts to get the bond measure passed.

“It’s a long process to get to this point,” Alvarado said, adding a new school would not have happened if the district didn’t have a strong relationship with the community and city leaders.

“That’s what feels so good, is just the fact that we withstood the test of time and all of those challenges and a wonderful school is going to come in the place for generations of kids,” Alvarado said. “That’s the coolest thing.”

With a districtwide enrollment of almost 17,000 students, Santa Maria-Bonita serves pre-kindergartners through eighth-graders in the Santa Maria area.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.