DMUSD board reviews master plan project costs

The Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) revealed the price tag on its recently completed facilities master plan on Sept. 27 — $179 million in modernization and upgrades across the district, including reconstructions of its oldest schools, Del Mar Heights School and Del Mar Hills Academy. The board is expected to approve the master plan at its Oct. 25 board meeting.

The master plan is an update to the last one completed in 2014 — the main focus this time around being to incorporate the new District Design 2022, the “bold” plan to revolutionize the traditional school system and radically change the experience they provide for children.

“Children need the right environment to be as successful as they can be and thrive and we know the importance of that,” said McClurg, noting that their pilot modern learning studios have shown that collaboration has been enhanced by the environment and available technology, and classroom flexibility has allowed students ownership of their learning space.

Garrick Oliver and Anney Rosenthal Hall of OBR Architecture presented the facilities master plan to the board, showing prototypes for modern learning studios and innovation centers (formerly the school library). The fundamentals of their designs for Del Mar included open collaboration spaces, varied learning zones, varied styles of furnishing, and stressing the importance of outdoor connections and views.

“These elements are not ‘nice-to-haves’ but ‘must-haves’ for future learning facilities,” Oliver said. “Implementing these student-focused measures will have a positive effect on students’ academic performance as well as their health, well-being and excitement for learning.”

OBR Architecture also performed a school facility analysis of each school site.

Del Mar Union School District schools range in age from the approximately 11-year-old Ocean Air School to the nearly 60-year-old Del Mar Heights. Oliver said for educational architecture, 50 years is about the lifespan for facilities and in the middle of that lifespan, major upgrades are usually required. He also noted that there are a lot changes in education over 10 years so “even the newest school is old in the eyes of curriculum today.”

The plan includes the complete remodel of Del Mar Hills and Del Mar Heights in phases, replacing portable classrooms with permanent buildings, modern learning studios and innovation center upgrades at all campuses and upgrades to multi-use rooms across the district.

“Each school has an MUR that is insufficient for its capacity,” Rosenthal Hall said.

School site specific improvements included expanding learning space into the outdoor spaces at Ocean Air, new classroom buildings at Sycamore Ridge and Ashley Falls, a whole new walkway entrance from Carmel Creek Road into Carmel Del Mar and getting the children’s dining area out of the “wind tunnel” at Torrey Hills.

McClurg said the next phase for the plan will occur in November, when all principals will meet with parents at school sites to talk specifically about their campus needs and get a conversation going about what stakeholders believe is important.

The finance piece remains the district’s biggest challenge, McClurg said, and one that the board and staff has spent a great deal of time researching and analyzing over the last few months. In addition to their current facilities needs, they have to consider how much space they will need in the future — the district toured the potential ninth school site on Solterra Vista Parkway in Pacific Highlands Ranch in September.

In analyzing district resources, staff has looked at the district’s Community Facilities Districts funds and the North City West School Facilities Financing Authority — McClurg said they received a legal opinion that the district is eligible for some funds based on what it actually cost to build Ocean Air 10 years ago.

The district last attempted a general obligation bond in 2012, which received 53 percent of the vote. The board decided against placing a bond on the 2016 ballot after a survey showed only 53 percent agreed that the district had facilities needs. The survey tested the ballot language on a $135 million bond and 57 percent said they would vote “yes” with 10 percent of the undecided “leaning yes.” The board agreed that they needed to do more community outreach and education about their facilities needs.

The district did not have a master plan in place at the time of the last bond vote in 2012.

“Some very important decisions need to be made in the not-so-distant future by this board so we are doing our diligence,” McClurg said.