The morning of Tuesday, Dec. 3 was particularly chilly, with no sun in sight and gloomy clouds protruding into the sky.
But, on the grass of the Lompoc Community Track & Sports Field inside Huyck Stadium, there was nothing but warm feelings all around.
On that morning, Lompoc Unified School District held a special groundbreaking ceremony for a $3.8 million renovation of Huyck Stadium. The field was filled with local school and civic leaders, as well as donors from various organizations who helped raise the money.
The project that will help not just students, but an entire community, was more than a decade in the making.
“It’s surreal because I really have spent a lot of time thinking about it, working on it and getting various groups together,” longtime Braves trainer and veteran physical education teacher Tom Blanco said.
“It’s surreal but also this tremendous feeling of gratitude to the community with people who know how important this is.”
The idea for the renovation of Huyck Stadium, which first opened its doors in 1955, did not come overnight. In fact, Mr. Blanco first tried to get the funding together for the project about 13 years ago, which at the time would have cost about $1.2 million.
An athletic trainer at Lompoc High School for 38 years and a P.E. teacher for more than three decades, Mr. Blanco started noticing in the early 2000s how “poor the facilities had become because they just could not bear with the times.”
In particular, Mr. Blanco wanted to help students who did not want to run on Lompoc High’s red brick track as it would stain and ruin their shoes.
Mr. Blanco said he used to get mad at students until one day, at church, he noticed one of his students wearing the same shoes he always did at school.
“A lightbulb just went on and suddenly I was like ‘I get it.’ Those were his best shoes. His shoes were what he had. They were clean and they were nice and they were what he had,” Mr. Blanco said.
Efforts to get the project off the ground stalled in about 2006.
“I thought we were done,” Mr. Blanco recalled.
Then, six years ago, he got another chance. Mr. Blanco went about things differently this time. He first decided to contact Ginger Salazer, a Lompoc High alum, Class of 1984.
Ms. Salazar, who was born and raised in Lompoc and now resides in Santa Barbara, serves on the boards of the Santa Barbara Foundation and Towbes Foundation. The two met on the red brick track at Lompoc High.
Ms. Salazar was wearing light-colored shoes, and instantly she remembered her plight when she was in high school.
“I can’t tell you how many white tennis shoes I had destroyed and Tom said ‘That’s exactly what I want to talk to you about,’ ” Ms. Salazar said.
Despite living in Santa Barbara now, Ms. Salazar still has positive feelings toward Lompoc.
“Lompoc is an amazing community. The people there are so generous and have a lot of pride and I learned so much growing up there that to be able to leverage some of the experiences I have had since moving away to help Lompoc has been great,” Ms. Salazar said.
“We don’t get where we are by ourselves and we all need to give back.”
Those feelings, combined with the fact that this project will help not just students, but the entire community, are what got Ms. Salazar on board,and playing a big role in the fundraising effort.
Mr. Blanco then reached out to Ashley Costa.
Ms. Costa, a former member of the Lompoc City Council and current executive director of Lompoc Valley Community Healthcare Organization, returned to Lompoc in 2009 after graduating from UCLA. Since then, she said, she has “really committed herself to giving back to the community.”
Ms. Costa dove into the health of the community and found that the Huyck Stadium project “was desperately needed.”
One of the problems in Lompoc is that there is no free, safely lit place for community members to exercise in the evening.
The project will solve that, as it encompasses an upgrade to an artificial turf field, all-weather rubberized nine-lane track, new track-and-field amenities, a community exercise zone with outdoor exercise equipment, new filtered drinking fountains, security cameras, and some lighting.
With Ms. Costa and Ms. Salazar on board, the three began working on what needed to be done and how much capital needed to be raised.
Their initial pitch was to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Foundation. The presentation was a huge success. By the end, the Chumash foundation donated $450,000.
“It was a power presentation. Ginger and Ashley are just really, really good at what they do. They (the Chumash) told us they’ve never received a request that was so well organized and so well done,” Mr. Blanco said.
Since then the project has become a community effort as a private-public partnership.
To date, about $1.65 million has been raised from local donors, businesses and foundations. More than 300 Lompoc residents and businesses donated $300,000 while $900,000 was raised from foundations and businesses in Santa Barbara, something that warmed the heart of Ms. Salazar.
“It’s two cities, but it’s really one community because we are interconnected. We may have different zip codes, but we are one Santa Barbara County and I feel really fortunate to have worked on this,” Ms. Salazar said.
“When you work together with a community of people for one common goal and then it gets accomplished, it’s pretty great.”
Making this a true community effort, the remaining $1.2 million was matched by the Lompoc Unified School District.
“The importance of the community being involved really shows that there’s a collective impact here that is larger than the school district, larger than just community members. It’s a whole Santa Barbara County effort that really gets behind kids,” said Trevor McDonald, superintendent of Lompoc Unified School District.
Mr. McDonald added that being apart of a project of this scope is “humbling because it’s bigger than one person, it’s bigger than one school district, this is going to benefit thousands and thousands of people.”
On the day of the groundbreaking ceremony, Ms. Costa said, “it’s appropriate that we hold this event, during the season of celebrations,” adding that Dec. 3 will “mark and celebrate an important moment in Lompoc history.”
Ms. Costa said afterward that the moment felt “surreal” but added that there is still a lot of work to be done.
While Huyck is being renovated, with an end date planned for May 2020, there is still work being done in the background with the city to help with after-hours security, as well as setting up recreation programs for youth and adults.
“We believed this was going to be transformational for the community. The community needed to win. And we wanted to help create that win. On so many levels, this project benefits the community and because of that, it was a no-brainer,” Ms. Costa said.
She added that she, Ms. Salazar and Tom Blanco have become close friends throughout the process, something that came as a happy surprise.
Athletic directors Claudia Terrones and Gary West at Lompoc and Cabrillo high schools, respectively, are also very excited about how this project will help student-athletes.
“It’s just going to open up a lot more competition for us. We can host more track meets and we are very excited for football in 2020 and I just think overall, for both schools, this is just like a new beginning,” said Ms. Terrones, who also has been the track coach for 14 years.
Mr. West added that although the stadium is at Lompoc, that does not matter, “It’s not about that. This is what’s best for kids, and I’m so about that.”
And, while it was a true community effort that allowed this project to take place, Mr. Blanco added, “Ashley and Ginger will try to downplay their roles, but this doesn’t happen without them. They are extremely bright, hardworking women. I am just very proud of them.”
For Mr. Blanco, the renovation was a long time coming, but he is happy that it is here now.
“When I saw the ground being broken and the big tractors in place I just had a good feeling about doing something good for a community that has been good to me,” Mr. Blanco said.
“It has been great to my family and I hope this project helps to keep Lompoc as a great place to raise a family and have a great life.”