On Sept. 1 the County of San Luis Obispo hosted a long awaited groundbreaking event with the Land Conservancy of SLO County to turn the site around the historic Octagon Barn on South Higuera Street into an event center and staging ground for future improvements to the Bob Jones Trail.
Kaila Dettman, executive director of the Conservancy, worked to hold back emotion as she listed all the groups to be thanked at the event, during an unusually hot morning for 10 a.m in SLO.
Although the organization works on preserving areas for environmental historic purposes, “my favorite thing about this project has been getting to meet all of the people from every walk of life…all of the people brought together that helped get us to this point.”
Contractors S. Chavez Construction are set to start work a few days after the gold shovels threw a bit of dirt around for approximately $2.5 million of improvements that will add a permanent parking lot, widen Higuera Street for a turn lane into the center, and grade the property overall for placement of storage, restrooms and museum facilities.
“By this time next year we should be open,” said Dettman, “But it’s not over, we still need another $350,000.”
That’s a small slice remaining of the $5.5 million the County and nonprofit organization needed to raise from the community and in grants.
Nick Franco, director of SLO County Parks and Recreation, noted that the years of effort marked a rare occasion in which the entire County Board of Supervisors was unified, “you just don’t see people opposing Bob Jones or the Octagon Barn.”
According to his department, when complete the Barn Center will be permitted to host up to 300 events annually, including dances, weddings and concerts.
The connection to the Bob Jones “City to the Sea” trail will still be some time in coming however, said Shaun Cooper, the senior planner, as the next segment will require $10 million more to construct, as well as several property easements to be negotiated. Planning for that may take until mid-2018, with another two to three years until all plans are “shovel ready.”
Still, said County District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill, “when I first came out here as a political candidate 10 years ago they told me, ‘this is going to be a gem of your District.’”
Of course, he added, everyone was telling him that about pet projects, but seeing what the community has done with the space, he said they were right this time.