At the bottom of the hill that connects Santa Barbara High proper and the field at Peabody Stadium sits a beautiful monument.
“This tablet is erected in grateful recognition of the generosity and public spirit of Frederick Forrest Peabody, who desirous of providing the young of this community a place for play, recreation and physical exercise, built this stadium and developed this field.”
For nearly three years, the only people getting exercise at Peabody Stadium have been the contractors — and subcontractors — that are attempting to complete the $39 million Peabody Stadium renovation project.
Already more than a year past due, the public outcry has reached a fever pitch at times, putting officials on their heels and the contracting company squarely in the spotlight.
But, it’s amazing how fast the laying of one strip of new Field Turf will help all of those anxious feelings melt away, giving way to the thoughts of touchdown passes from Deacon Hill to Jake Knecht, both the boys and girls soccer teams chasing CIF titles or finally hosting a home track meet.
No, this does not excuse the lack of communication as deadlines were missed and questions were left unanswered.
However, the Santa Barbara Unified School District has done a commendable job in course correcting, becoming far more transparent with the project, allowing for excitement to creep back into the community’s collective mind.
On Friday morning, the News-Press was invited to take an behind-the-scenes tour of the facility — an olive branch extended by Steve Vizzolini, the district’s head of facilities.
Make no mistake about it, Peabody Stadium is still very much a construction zone, but there is enough to experience to see that the finish line isn’t that far off.
Before the tour started, Mr. Vizzolini tossed out an eye-opening fact — through the renovation, they were able to add three acres of space to the facility.
Considering it’s in a bowl, that’s hard to fathom until you realize the amount of digging into the hills that has happened.
Behind the end zone closest to JR Richards Gym, the new, state-of-the-art scoreboard sits along the hill, easy to see a score as a car passes along on Anapamu — and finally giving the opposing team a full view. Prior, the scoreboard sat at angle along the opposite end zone, with only the Dons’ sideline able to fully see it.
Digging into the hill will allow for the track to be laid around the playing field — a major focus of the renovation, as Santa Barbara High has never had its own track facility.
And Mr. Vizzolini revealed another cool nugget about the track — it’ll be green and gold, matching the school’s colors.
“We hope it will look as good as we think it will,” he said.
As you get to the bottom of the hill, a slew of new basketball courts intended for P.E. classes at the high school are ready to go, with protective covering on the new rims and new asphalt and lines just teasing you to want to grab a basketball.
As you make your way around the playing field, you can’t help but look up to where there a ton of work is still being done, but you notice an old friend — the iconic ticket booth that they were able to save during the project.
Below it, workers are busily getting what will be a corner of the field that will be dedicated to the donors that helped make the project a reality — directly across from the monument honoring Mr. Peabody.
“The plaques will be beautiful, just a way of saying thank you,” Mr. Vizzolini said.
Behind what will be the home sideline, there is entry way that takes you under the expansive stands.
Initial plans had this area being turned into offices for coaches and a team room, but that proved to be too costly, so district and school officials are in talks about how to best use the area.
One idea that has surfaced is potentially utilizing it for the Dons’ ever-improving wrestling program, with Mr. Vizzolini saying only minor work would need to be done to allow for that to possibly happen.
As you exit this area, you are greeted by incredibly detailed work in the architecture surrounding the stadium — it feels like Santa Barbara, through and through.
Making your way up the back stairs, you are greeted by potentially the most picturesque view of any stadium in the United States.
Under the press boxes, but above the stands, you can simply stand there and take in the entire Riviera — while watching your son, daughter, niece, nephew, friend or grandchild play or cheer.
Outside of maybe La Playa Stadium, there simply isn’t a better view in town.
Atop the stands is an ADA-compliant section, with the elevator feeding directly to the seats. The elevator was a point of concern early in the project, as the state had to inspect the installation and functionality, which takes time.
It’s good to go now.
The stands will remain concrete, with the “open seating” fairly deep, where your back will be supported. Mr. Vizzolini did indicate that there will be some seats available, for VIPs and the like.
Speaking of special treatment, the new press boxes and coach’s rooms overlooking the field — which will be helped by the massive 125-foot light structures that are complete with LEDs that make nighttime games almost look like they are being played in the day — will be among the best along the South Coast.
From here, you can clearly hear the hustle and bustle of work continuing, particularly the seemingly constant sound of a nail or staple gun. While your back hurts watching the handful of workers at the stadium, you see that there is much more to laying the new Field Turf, that there is a process to lock it into place, getting it ready for the numbers along the sidelines, as well as the Santa Barbara High logo at midfield.
The turf installation will take at least three more weeks, followed by a settling period and then finally the laying of the track, which is being handled by a different contracting company.
If Mother Nature cooperates and if prognostications on the time needed to install the track are accurate, all major portions of the project should be complete in approximately the next 60 days, which would hold to the district’s initial estimate of the end of April.
So, Mr. Vizzolini, is the goal still 2020 graduation?
Maybe we can get that new scoreboard to start a countdown clock . . .