Renovation of Santa Barbara High School’s Peabody Stadium includes replacing its cracked asphalt track with a synthetic surface that meets CIF regulations and will allow the school to host track meets. (Foundation for Santa Barbara High School photo)

Santa Barbara High School is gearing up for a major facelift, as planning for the renovation of Peabody Stadium nears completion.

The project is designed to update the 90-year-old facility with a new concrete grandstand as well as an artificial turf field and synthetic track. Construction is scheduled to begin as early as this fall, as long as critical fundraising targets are met.

“This is a once-in-a-century project,” SBHS Principal John Becchio said. “Peabody Stadium is the largest classroom on campus and benefits all our students, whether they are athletes or not.”

A wealth of literature supports the connection between physical activity and the health, emotional well-being and academic performance of students.

Currently, the use of Peabody Stadium is extremely restricted due to the facility’s age and deteriorated condition. Built in 1924, the grandstand does not meet building or accessibility codes. The asphalt track is hazardous to run on, and the grass field is so delicate and costly to maintain that it is off-limits at all times except for football, soccer and lacrosse games. The P.E. department at SBHS has only limited access to the facility, and the school has not held a track meet on campus since 1996. The school rarely allows community groups to use the sensitive natural grass field.

The Peabody Stadium renovation will include a new grandstand that maintains the style and feel of the original one, but meets modern standards of safety and accessibility. It is also centered on the 50-yard line for better viewing. The project replaces the grass field with durable artificial turf, which will save 1 million gallons of water each year. The asphalt track will be replaced with a synthetic surface that meets CIF regulations and will allow SBHS to host track meets at the school. The design retains important traditional elements of the stadium, such as the pathway known as the Walk of the Dons that students take to the field for graduation.

“Renovating this facility allows us to open the doors of our stadium not just to our school community but to Santa Barbara as a whole,” Principal Becchio commented.

All SBHS students use Peabody Stadium for physical education classes and athletics, as well as for school-wide functions and graduation. Once renovated, the facility will also be available to neighbors and other community members during non-school, daylight hours.

The $12.7 million project is being funded through a partnership between the Santa Barbara Unified School District and the Foundation for Santa Barbara High School. Drawing on Measure Q2010 bond funds and a grant from the State of California for seismic mitigation, the school district has committed $7.7 million to the project. The foundation began raising the additional $5 million needed from private donations in the fall.

Capital campaign chair Greg Tebbe announced that the foundation has raised $2.7 million of its $5 million goal since the beginning of the school year.

“We are tremendously encouraged by the enthusiasm for this project,” Tebbe said. “Santa Barbara High School is a cornerstone of our community, and it’s been amazing to meet Dons of all ages who treasure the school and want to help keep it strong.

“We are so grateful to the individuals and businesses who have helped us clear the halfway point. We need to maintain our fundraising momentum so we can begin construction on time and complete what will become an incredible resource for our school and our community.”

If fundraising goals are met, the Peabody Stadium renovation project will begin construction in November and be completed in time for graduation in 2017.

— Katie Jacobs is the director of development for the Foundation for Santa Barbara High School.