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The most ambitious fundraising campaign in the 20-year history of the Cabrillo High School Aquarium received significant support this month that has leaders confident that upgrades to the facility can begin as soon as this summer.

Students and staff who oversee the on-campus aquarium kicked off a $250,000 capital campaign last September to fund a new interactive tide pool exhibit, as well as upgrades to the aquarium’s filtration systems.

The so-called Interactive Tide Pool Project brought in several grants and donations this month that have helped push the fundraising total to nearly $100,000, as well as a $25,000 matching grant pledge from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Foundation that will apply to any future donations.

“This partnership with the Chumash comes at a critical point in our fundraising campaign,” said Greg Eisen, the aquarium’s director. “Through this grant, anyone who now donates to our project will see their contribution matched dollar for dollar by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, up to $25,000.

"This will get us closer to our fundraising goal and help us, ultimately, continue to inspire others to take care of the ocean and our coastal resources.”

That Chumash Foundation grant, which was announced Monday, was the latest in a string of key contributions for the campaign over the past month.

At the May 14 meeting of the Lompoc Unified School District board of education, the campaign formally accepted a $30,000 grant from the California Coastal Commission, as well as a $10,000 donation from the Towbes Foundation and a $3,000 gift from the Emmett R. Quady Foundation.

Those donations helped bring the total raised to $98,800.

Eisen said this week that the tentative timeline for the renovations calls for marine life support systems to be installed in the aquarium this summer and for the new interactive tide pool exhibit to be added over the winter break of the 2019-20 school year.

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Kenneth Kahn, tribal chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, indicated that the Chumash Foundation was excited to help make the upgrades a reality.

The 5,000-square-foot aquarium reportedly attracts more than 7,000 visitors per year, many of them local elementary school students attending on field trips.

“This student-run operation provides a unique educational experience and fosters a deeper knowledge and respect for marine life,” Kahn said, according to a statement released by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

“Our tribe is proud to support Cabrillo High School in its quest to upgrade the aquarium’s filtration equipment and re-create a tide pool environment in a touch tank that curious students on field trips can enjoy.”

The $30,000 provided by the California Coastal Commission comes from the state’s whale-tail license plate funds.

Project leaders received LUSD approval this month to spend about $10,000 of the funding on a contract with the firm Tenji Aquarium Design + Build for design and other preliminary work.

Chris Ladwig, a Cabrillo High science teacher and aquarium adviser, said that the goal for aquarium leaders was to have all the funding secured by the end of June so that work could begin this summer.

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“We are excited that any new contributions from now on will be doubled up to $25,000, thanks to the Chumash matching grant,” Ladwig said.

To learn more about the Cabrillo High Aquarium or make a donation to its interactive tide pool project, visit www.cabrilloaquarium.org or email Eisen at eisen.greg@lusd.org.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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Willis Jacobson covers news and other issues, primarily those that affect the Lompoc Valley and Vandenberg Air Force Base, for Lee Central Coast News. He is a graduate of The University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.