By Marsha Sutton
The Del Mar Union School District plans to enter into a 30-day period of due diligence on the potential purchase of the property at 11232 El Camino Real, said DMUSD superintendent Jim Peabody.
The building is being considered to replace the district offices currently housed at the Shores property at 225 Ninth St. in Del Mar. The 5.3-acre Shores property, purchased from the school district for $8.5 million in 2008 by the city of Del Mar, needs to be vacated by May 2011.
This is the second due diligence for the district in the past two months. The first, for the property at 2002 Jimmy Durante Blvd. in Del Mar, was halted without explanation in closed session several weeks ago by the school board.
"We've entered into another due diligence period, or might at this point, depending upon the response we get from the seller," Peabody said.
If the seller is interested, then the district has 30 days to look at the property, Peabody explained. "We have our space planners go in and make sure we have the space to do what we want to do," he said. "If it all works out, then we move forward. And if not, at the end of the 30 days we don't."
The announcement of the first escrow, on Jimmy Durante, took many members of the community by surprise, and the board was criticized by some for conducting too much of the property evaluation behind closed doors.
School board candidate Scott Wooden, at a forum on Sept. 30, said only specific contract negotiations related to price and terms should be held in closed session and all other discussions on potential property acquisitions should be public.
"This board has seemed to do things that have not been open," Wooden said. "That is one reason why this board is having difficulties."
School board president Steven McDowell was reported saying that he is unable to disclose why the Jimmy Durante property was unsuitable because real-estate negotiations are privileged information.
Peabody said the school board did not discuss the pros and cons of the Jimmy Durante site in open session, except to announce publicly after many private discussions that the district was entering into a period of due diligence.
"That was the only discussion that happened in open session," he said. "That was under the broker's instructions. [It was] a real fast timeline because I guess there was another interested party."
He said the community also may have been unaware "because we stopped having attendance at our meetings."
Peabody said one reason for the secrecy is that commercial property owners often have existing tenants who become nervous if they hear their building may be for sale.
"If we come out and make this grand announcement ... it's hard on them because as soon as they hear that it's heading into a purchase, they have the possibility of losing the majority of their tenants," he said.
However, Peabody said he plans to approach the El Camino Real property differently and hold more open-session discussions on the benefits and drawbacks of the building, reserving closed-session talks only for specific price negotiations.
Peabody said the board openly discussed the El Camino Real property at the previous school board meeting, as well as another building under consideration at 4106 Sorrento Valley Blvd., and compared the two spaces.
He named San Diego Office Interior as the space planning firm the district will use to evaluate space requirements for a new district office. "The board had asked me to get a space planner because we've always said we needed 20,000 square feet for a district office," he said, questioning that figure.
San Diego Office Interior handled the space planning for the Poway Unified School District when Poway was preparing to purchase its new district offices.
"When they started working with the Poway district, Poway felt that they needed 100,000 square feet to do their district office," Peabody said. "After working with this group of office planners, they found out they needed 56,000. So that's the kind of thing I think we need to be careful of."
Preliminary space planning was done several years ago by an architectural firm, but Peabody said the results reflected what staff wanted. "But is it what we need? That's the question I want answered," he said.