The project to pave over a dirt path used by El Camino Elementary School and San Marcos High School students has gone through approvals to get grant funding and should soon move into the design stage, according to information presented at Tuesday’s Santa Barbara school board meeting.

The Tatum Pathway Improvement Project would pave over a trail that people use on the way to school or shopping areas in the unincorporated Goleta Valley. As of now, there is a dirt path through the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s vacant lot property at San Simeon Drive and San Marcos Road.

Santa Barbara County came to SBUSD’s Board of Education in October proposing the paving project, and it has since been approved by the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments and a Measure A committee. The cost estimate has changed from the county’s proposal, which included lighting, and is expected to cost about $330,000 of Safe Routes to School money, according to Dave Hetyonk, Santa Barbara Unified’s facilities director.

He said the project is only waiting on more agreements to be signed, and the design phase should start this month.

Students and parents — shopping or even shoving along strollers — use the pathway often, and the lot itself is designated as open space that is technically closed after dusk.

The county estimate included lighting, but the district doesn’t want to encourage nighttime use of the pathway, Hetyonk said. Lighting was also cut to save money on the project, and the elimination was a surprise since it was pitched as a big part of making the area safer, according to school board president Monique Limon.

The district had serious problems with overnight camping and trespassing, but vigilant work with the Sheriff’s Department and frequent visits from district staff have really cut down on those incidents, Superintendent Dave Cash said.

“It’s very different than it was even eight or nine months ago, when we could have gone any day of the week and found people living there,” he said.

Hetyonk agreed.

“We’ve found everything from one overnight campsite to a tree house that was pretty sophisticated,” Hetyonk said, adding that his staff has also worked with authorities to take care of illegal dumping issues on the property. “We hope to find out very soon that we’re in design for the pathway.”

Measure A has $455 million available for South Coast projects, including $13 million for Safe Routes to School projects over a 30-year period. 

The board also approved resolutions for impending bond sales — another $35 million for the secondary district and $20 million for the elementary district — which are expected to go to market in August. It’s impossible to estimate what impact the bond issuance will have on local property tax rates, but district leaders said the new assessed value numbers from Santa Barbara County are “looking really good.” The district may also move forward with re-funding existing bonds if interest rates get low enough.

Board members also gave the bond project management firm — TELACU Construction Management — permission to get started on schedules for preventative maintenance and deferred maintenance. TELACU has already done work to assess and prioritize bond projects and create a facilities master plan.

The firm is paid out of bond proceeds at an hourly rate. 

“We just don’t have the manpower or womanpower in the district to accomplish these things,” Hetyonk said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.