Last summer, when Del Mar's Winston School hired a new head of school, the city's two top administrators stopped by to introduce themselves.
At the time, the city was in the midst of a long-term effort to plan a public park on the Shores property, which Del Mar bought in 2008 for $8.5 million. The Winston School occupies one corner of the 5.5-acre parcel along 9th Street between Stratford Court and Camino Del Mar.
During that meeting, City Manager Scott Huth and Assistant City Manager Kristen Crane learned that Dena Harris, the new head of school, had experience in working on shared-use park/school projects, and was interested in collaborating with the city.
The city had also thought about working with the school to maximize the use of the Shores property, and so the discussion with Harris "was kind of a game-changer," said Crane.
In January, the City Council approved a memorandum of understanding that allows city staff to work with the school on potential collaborations, including shared facilities such as parking, an activity center and recreational fields.
"We can build something better and beautiful" by working together, said Harris. "It's a community asset. It should be developed together."
The city and school have long been in partnership; in 2008, when the city bought the property, the school raised nearly $3 million to help with the purchase price. Since then, the school has drawn against that sum in lieu of annual lease payments to the city.
If the school once again helps raise money for new park improvements, it would seek a lease extension that gives it credit for the new contribution to Shores Park, said a city staff report for the January agenda item.
Both Harris and Crane stressed that as the joint planning effort moves forward, the city plans to use the information it has already gathered from its community outreach efforts on planning the park.
"We are not going back to the drawing board, we will pursue what the community wants," said Crane. The only thing that may change is how the different elements are configured on the property, she said.
Following workshops, interviews of residents and a survey, it was determined that the community's top priorities for the site include an off-leash dog area, playing fields, indoor meeting space, shade, picnic areas, parking and walking paths.
Until now, Crane said, the city had been working with an L-shaped parcel around the school's current location.
But the school is open to looking at different options, from moving the school to another location on the property, to a smaller footprint for the school buildings, said Harris.
"Nothing is set in stone other than a school and a park," said Harris.
Both Crane and Harris agreed that with flexibility and creativity, a more efficient use of the space may be achievable.
"The property is only so big, and there are lots of things the community would like to fit in the park," Crane said.
Currently, the school serves grades 6 through 12, and it has about 120 students, Harris said. Winston School wants to replace its aging buildings, which date back decades. The campus housed a public elementary school from 1947 through the 1970s.
In addition to the school, the Shores property now includes a small community center, a baseball field that doubles as a dog park during certain hours, and a large parking lot. Many vantage points offer sweeping ocean views.
Crane said the city and school are exploring details of how park facilities could be shared and whether the two entities will ultimately work together to develop the Shores property. If the partnership moves forward, specific development scenarios will come back to the council within the next couple of months, and then a community workshop will be held to gauge reaction to the alternative proposals, possibly in June.
Also in the works is a study to determine potential costs for development of the park and school facilities. When the city launched its planning process, it did not set a target budget for development of the park, said Crane. Instead, officials opted to find out what the community wanted in the park, and then determine the costs, she said.