MUS’s Field of Dreams
This week, a consultant team is on the Montecito Union School campus interviewing students, staff, teachers, parents, and administrators in order to start formulating a plan for how best to utilize the 2.3-acre parcel of land located adjacent to the campus on San Ysidro Road.
After acquiring the land in 2006 as part of a land-swap deal with the Montecito YMCA, the MUS school board has toyed with several ideas on how to make best use of the property, on which sits a residential home that used to be rented out to bring in income for the school. The home, which was built in 1975, is not up to code to utilize it for students, and five years ago, the front of the property began to be utilized for overflow staff parking, which has increased over the last two years. Since then, the home has essentially become “a very expensive storage shed,” according to superintendent Dr. Anthony Ranii. “It’s not up to the necessary standards to use it for classroom space,” he explained, adding that the home, which resembles an old adobe, is neither ADA compliant or seismically retrofitted. Back in 2014, plans for the property included building a five-classroom building on the site, as well as an expanded parking lot, as part of a larger development plan on the campus that has since been put on hold indefinitely. “We don’t need more classroom space,” Dr. Ranii added, saying that enrollment is currently lower than average, and is trending downward. The school continues to focus its efforts on maintaining its current buildings and infrastructure, and has no immediate plans to build any permanent structures on the campus or the adjacent lot.
The Montecito Union School Foundation, headed by president Cate Stoll, decided last year that they wanted to help fund development of the property, as an area for outdoor learning space, bolstering the school’s already robust STEAM program. “The technology piece is there, and we have this amazing opportunity to get kids away from their screens and back into nature,” Stoll said during a recent visit to the property. “We envision a space for kids to get their hands in the dirt, like we used to do,” Stoll said, adding that the space is large enough for gardening areas, bird houses, a pond, insect colonies, and more. “We want our kids to learn through play and experience,” Dr. Ranii said. “The learning multiplies when you’re outside.”
There are two access points to the property; one is a walkway from the south parking lot into the overflow parking area, the other is further west, connecting to a space on the campus currently being used as an outdoor classroom. Facilities crews are currently working on expanding that area with funds donated through the Foundation, and it will eventually be connected to the adjacent land parcel via a pedestrian bridge. “The idea is that the kids will get to go on a sort of field trip to the property next door,” Stoll said. The consultants, in addition to interviewing every student at the school, will also visit schools in other towns, to get a feel for how they are incorporating outdoor learning space into their curriculums. “This is the week of information gathering,” Dr. Ranii said.
The consultants will formulate a plan for ideas in how best to use the space; it will then be presented to the School Board for review and decision.
Each year, the Montecito Union School Foundation, which is funded mostly through an annual campaign and gala, as well as the school’s jog-a-thon and Carnival, funds one improvement project on the campus. Last year it was the upper terrace playground and ball wall. This year the Foundation is committed to spending money on instruction, offering continued improvement in student curriculum.
“What Cate and her leadership team have brought to the Foundation, is just invaluable,” Dr. Ranii said. “They see the importance of offering our current students an area for outdoor learning.” Dubbed the “Field of Dreams” project, a gala is planned for March 7 at the Montecito Club. If you have ideas for the property, and how students can best explore and discover in nature, you are invited to email Dr. Ranii at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more about MUS, visit www.montecitou.org.