The youngest pioneers in the emerging field of digital preservation can be found at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

Students in the Environmental and Spatial Technologies program, better known as EAST, are the first and only high school students in the world to use LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology, according to EAST teacher Chip Fenenga.

Last week, students began performing a 3D laser scan of Mission Santa Ines for the University of San Francisco and California Missions Commission “El Camino Real” project to scan all of California’s 21 Spanish Missions, four presidios and three pueblos over the next two to three years.

The idea behind the project is to make a virtual 3D model of the structures so if they’re damaged in earthquakes or fires, for example, the model provides a precise outline down to the millimeter for easier reconstruction. Most of the project’s $700,000 to $800,000 cost will be paid by preservation groups and private donations.

The scans could eventually lead to the development of a mobile application that could be used in schools as a virtual tour of the mission which could include video, historical photos, and voiceovers.

SYVUHS is also the first high school technology center for CyArk, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization that describes itself as a “digital archive of the world’s heritage sites for preservation and education.”

On Friday, a dozen students worked on scanning each of the Mission’s 19 arches, one of which is an original 1804 arch with the brickwork exposed.

A day earlier, seniors Kaitlin Beaton and Melissa Moniot scanned the fulling mill, used for the beating and cleaning of cloth in water, and grist mill, used for grinding grain into flour, and with portable lights Moniot brought from home they illuminated the inside of the 19th-century structures.

The existing church was dedicated in 1817. The church and other Mission buildings were rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1812. Its parish hall was built in 1989.

As students moved the scanner from one arch to another and placed the scanner where they could scan the inside and outside of each arch, mission archivist Sheila Benedict said the students were doing remarkably well and that SYVUHS having the first students in the world working on a digital preservation project is a “feather in the cap” for the school.

“It’s amazing,” she said.

Scanning of the Mission complex — exterior, interior, attic and bell towers — “could take a while,” Fenenga said.

He added the students have done an impressive job so far of scanning and they are also doing a good job when they get back to the classroom to create the 3D model. There are 32 students working on the Mission project.

Using CyArk software, the data gathered by the Faro Focus 3D laser scanner is converted into a photo-like representation of what the eye would see at the site that was scanned.

The scanner cost $65,000 and the software program cost $8,000. Grant funding for the scanner and software were secured from ROP, as well as supplemental assistance from CyArk and their industry partners.

The scanner, smaller than an Xbox video game console and mounted on a tripod, can perform an almost 360 degree scan of an area, accurate to within one millimeter, in about 6 minutes. It can scan 1.1 million points of data per second.

Measuring 9.5 inches tall, 8 inches long and 4 inches wide, the scanner records data on standard SD cards, like those used in many digital cameras, until the data is transferred to a computer.

Students in the EAST class learn to use global positioning system (GPS) and geographical information system (GIS) devices. The classes are offered through the Santa Barbara County Regional Occupational Program (ROP), which offers job-training classes as part of students’ high school curriculum.

Since it began in 2003, the EAST class has received numerous awards and grants for a 2005 project mapping Isla Vista’s eroding sea cliffs from Coal Oil Point to Campus Point, and for a 2004 project mapping the remains of Mission Santa Ines’ dam and aqueduct with the same technology.

Ben Kacyra, a civil engineer, founded CyArk in 2003. He is considered a pioneer in the use of laser scanners for surveying and has dedicated himself to the documentation of archaeological and cultural heritage sites around the world.

CyArk’s mission statement includes “digitally preserving cultural heritage sites through collecting, archiving and providing open access to data created by laser scanning, digital modeling, and other state-of-the-art technologies.”

For a preview of what the Mission scan will look like, visit www.syvuhsd.org and click on ”Pirates Begin Historic Preservation Project.”

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