A brief history of the school at the crossroads: Well over a century ago a one-room school was built at the crossroads at Las Cruces; replaced decades later by Vista del Mar School on the Gaviota Coast; and replaced six decades later by the present Vista de Las Cruces School at the original Las Cruces site. Then as now the very foundation of this school is at the Las Cruces crossroads.
Why and how did this third iteration project happen? Simply stated, it was off-shore drilling. Chevron desperately needed to build a new on-shore processing facility to service their off-shore wells. The only possible site was across US 101 to the North opposite their existing facility and pier to the south, but the Vista del Mar School was too near and in the way. With no alternative, Chevron said “we will buy your school, find a new site to your liking and design and build you a new school, OK?” And so it was. With this decision the word was go and go fast.
It sounds simple , but it’s not. Complicated it was and is - and then some. As the designer and architect of record, this school was more complicated than any one of the dozens of other school projects I’ve been involved with - some ten times the size and cost of this. However, complications can create opportunity. At the end, this project - this very special school - is the most professionally satisfying and personal favorite project in my seven decade career in architecture.
How was my firm selected for this commission? I really don’t know! One morning, my receptionist rushed into my office to “whisper” that there were three people from Chevron in the office unannounced and with no appointment who wanted to talk about a “new school.” After being ushered in and introductions made, they asked to verify if we still designed schools. Thus verified, they began a quick description of their project. They then asked when could we get started. I answered “tomorrow”. Then they left saying they would call when they had made a decision. After lunch shortly after 2:00 P.M., they called to say we had the job and set up our first project team meeting for 10:00 A.M. the next day.
Public schools are generally built under the authority of the State with minimal involvement with local authorities. On this project, eleven agencies were involved - 6 state and 5 local. The state and local requirements and standards seldom coincide. Compromise and resolution had to be reached on every conflicting issue.
At a presentation before the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission seeking approval of the site for the “new school” at Las Cruces, a couple of board members questioned (negatively) whether Las Cruces was a proper place for the new school. At his point an elderly woman stood up and stated emphatically that almost a century earlier there was a one-room school there that she and her sister had attended, and it was a perfect location for a school. “GAME OVER”. The site was approved. This original school had in fact laid the foundation and tradition for a school at the crossroads of Las Cruces.
The site approved above was one of six possible sites studied and analyzed by Chevron and our office. Finally selecting the Las Cruces site fo its superior availability, access, shape, safety, topography, feasible design opportunities, and its traditional and foundational Las Cruces crossroads location. The builders of the first school had made these same or similar considerations well over a century ago.
The school is designed to serve K through 8 students in small classes in unique, flexible, well equipped, non institutional feeling classrooms. Each classroom has its own private patio/outdoor project area as well as direct access to immediately adjacent landscaped courtyard with lawn, seating, and instructional aids. All classrooms (science, computer, etc) are equipped with up to date equipment. The lower level classrooms, kindergarten, and library are to the left (east) of the main central entrance plaza and central multipurpose complex (music rooms, kitchens, etc.) while the upper level classes are located to the right (west) of the entrance along with the administration building. The plaza centers on the main entrance to the multipurpose building and is flanked on the left by a separate public entrance to the library and on the right by the main administration building entrance. This plaza is fronted by a full width grand stair ascending from parking and bus loading area below. The centered main entry to the multipurpose/auditorium building is intentionally reminiscent of that at the old Gaviota school. This plaza and its defining buildings provide a sense of friendly formality and casual comfort and well being seldom experienced these days.
A second but important functional design objective is to facilitate the school’s use as a community center when school is not in session.
Roger Phillips, Architect & Designer
Grant Pedersen Phillips Architects
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