Santa Barbara High unveils its stunning, new Peabody Stadium
Elise Simmons has watched the new Peabody Stadium rise during her 30 months as principal of Santa Barbara High School, but it was like she was seeing it again for the first time on Tuesday.
“It’s breathtaking,” she said as she guided the media through the rebuilt facility. “There are these moments when I just catch myself going, ‘I can’t believe I’m the principal of this beautiful school and this Peabody Stadium.’”
Santa Barbara High’s historic stadium is expected to get its first use on Monday when the Dons’ football team moves its workouts from the grass field of nearby Santa Barbara Junior High School and onto the state-of-the-art, synthetic turf of Peabody.
“We’re creating a dedication video that will be a walkthrough,” Dr. Simmons said. “We’re going to send it live on the 24th, which is exactly 96 years since the original Peabody Stadium dedication.”
The new, concrete grandstand — built with the same Mediterranean architecture that defines downtown Santa Barbara — will seat 2,300, which includes chairback seats for donors. It adds to the 1,100-seat visitors section on the other side of the field.
Dr. Simmons pointed to some of the decorative tiles and said, “It’s just those handmade touches — the Santa Barbara style — that make this stadium so special. It’s a high school stadium, and yet it’s like someone’s beautifully built mansion. It’s unbelievable that we get that as a gift for our students and for our community.”
Other new features of the stadium include a scoreboard, press box, elevator, café, restrooms, and plazas built on both sides of the concourse.
The $39 million project was funded by donations raised by The Foundation for Santa Barbara High, as well as from Measure Q2010 funding and state seismic mitigation funds. The old stadium, built in 1924, had been deemed a major earthquake risk.
Todd Heil, who took over as Santa Barbara High’s athletic director this summer, said he hadn’t seen anything like the new Peabody Stadium during his 20 years as the Dons’ boys soccer coach.
“The setting is beautiful,” he said. “It’s just an incredible spot to be able to not only play a game, but to watch a game.”
The guts of the stadium will eventually include a classroom, training room, locker room and team room. The Dons still plan to make their traditional run onto the field from the new, wider tunnel in the middle of the concourse when they play their Jan. 8 opener against St. Joseph’s — a contest that has been delayed by more than four months by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The project was originally scheduled to be finished in April of 2019. Delays costing an additional $8 million arose when collapsed drainage conduits — laid before the original stadium was built — were discovered by construction crews.
“What’s the saying? Nothing good comes easy,” Dr. Simmons said. “This is evidence of something that was a lot of hard work.
“I can’t wait for the boys to be out here and the girls out here competing, and us in the stands. It’s going to be amazing.”
Santa Barbara’s seniors were all freshmen when ground was broken for the facility before the start of the 2017 school year.
“They’re chomping at the bit, the football team, our boys and girls soccer teams, our lacrosse teams,” Mr. Heil said. “And then you think about our track and field team which, for the first time in forever, gets to practice on campus instead of using City College, and finally gets to hold a track meet that we haven’t been able to hold for a few decades.
“We’re all excited about that.”
The need for a new track sparked the fund-raising campaign that the Foundation for Santa Barbara High School launched more than eight years ago. Peabody Stadium’s cracked, asphalt track was deemed unsafe and inadequate for meets a quarter-century ago.
To create enough room for a regulation track and 110-meter straightaway, the back of the new stadium had to be pushed back against the slope of the canyon. Additional slopes in the bowl below Santa Barbara High’s main campus were also excavated and held back by retaining walls.
“They had to carve out three extra acres to make enough space,” noted Kate Murphy, a member of the foundation’s executive board of directors.
“My wow is just the space that it takes up,” Dr. Simmons said. “To be in the middle of Santa Barbara, this beautiful city, and you just look over these retaining walls, and beyond at our school that’s more than 100 years old, and onto the Riviera.
“It’s just unbelievable, the space that it takes up, and how gorgeous it is.”
Dr. Simmons led the media in a walkthrough that began at the lower section of the “Walk of the Dons” — a pathway from the campus above which is used during graduation ceremonies. She said she gets excited every time she takes it all in.
“Part of it also has to do with the people I’m with,” she said. “The positive energy of just seeing it through their eyes adds another layer, like being out here with the student-athletes.”
The Walk of the Dons passes a memorial which lists all the Santa Barbara alumni that have died in military service. It also passes the stadium’s original cornerstone honoring Frederick Forrest Peabody, the founder of the Arrow Shirt company who funded the facility’s construction in 1924.
“We put it in storage, and now it’s the cornerstone here again,” Ms. Murphy pointed out.
Santa Barbara High’s soccer teams will also begin stadium workouts next week. The basketball teams will practice on the outdoor, blacktop courts located between the stadium and Anapamu Street.
COVID-19 restrictions still limit the stadium’s use to just Santa Barbara High students. Dr. Simmons said the public will eventually be allowed to use the track.
“The community helped pay for it, and it was a commitment to them,” she said. “We appreciate all of the support of our community and our district and our alumni, and everybody who helped and stuck with us through this whole thing.”