Community offers input on Del Mar Heights School rebuild

The layout of the new Del Mar Heights School campus.

The community got a look at the preliminary design for the new Del Mar Heights School on Sept. 5, a design that takes advantage of its ocean views and natural environment, creates a unique learning experience for children and hopes to find solutions for the challenging traffic situation on Boquita Drive that “paralyzes the community twice a day.”

Baker Nowicki Architects refined its campus design this summer based on the input gathered over five community meetings starting back in April.

“This community provided us a tremendous amount of input, engagement and even push back that has really helped define what we’ve been planning,” said John Baker of Baker Nowicki.

With the new school Baker said they sought to meet the school’s operational and curriculum needs, “preserve the magic” of what the Heights means to the community while respecting neighbors’ views. Right now the design is a 69,000-square-foot campus with a maximum enrollment of about 500 students (currently 442 students attend Del Mar Heights).

Baker said the layout of the campus was driven by trying to get most of the traffic during pick-up and drop-off to be handled on site versus off-site to relieve pressure on the community as well as improve parking available on site. The new design allows for a long queue for pick-up and drop-off and the parking lot will have 90-95 parking spaces.

The proposed multi-use room at Del Mar Heights School.

The “modern” and “sophisticated” campus is secured by one point of entry and a boardwalk connects students to learning villages, a central amphitheater, covered lunch area, the multi-use room, playground and field. Each learning village features modern learning studios with collaboration spaces and access to outdoor learning areas.

Baker said the “transformative” multi-use room becomes a more functional space in the new campus, designed with expansive windows that open up to ocean views. The multi-use room is accessible from all of the learning labs for music, art and science to make sure it gets by students all the time—the room is also connected to the innovation center, the re-imagined library space.

“This part of childrens’ day is going to be amazing,” commented one former teacher on the design of the school. “I think it’s beautiful.”

At the front of campus, the design includes an entry plaza with an area left as open space. Some commented that it is “wasted space” and encouraged the architects to activate it more, such as with a tot lot.

With the design of the new school, there is no longer room for the two full-size baseball diamonds that have been used by Del Mar Little League for 70 years. The district is pursuing an option to replace the fields with new facilities at Torrey Hills Elementary School.

While there is no longer space for the two baseball diamonds, there is room for two softball fields and a soccer field in the green space—the school garden is also proposed to be relocated in that area of campus.

At the Sept. 5 meeting, some neighbors said they were pleased with the preserved view corridors from Durango across the canyon as well as from Mira Montana—buildings were kept to one story with low sloped roofs to preserve the natural views as much as possible.

Some expressed concerns about how the “sprawling” design of the campus has “obliterated” the green space that the community loves. Many requested that the architects work to optimize the buildings to get a better balance between instructional space and field space.

“The loss of the green space is really a tragedy,” one resident said. “This is the only green space west of the 5.”

As part of the design, the architects did study second access points for the campus on Mira Montana Drive and the end of Boquita Drive. Both options were ruled out at this point as they both would require expensive retaining walls and would affect the landscape buffer between the school and residences.

The final conceptual design will be presented at a community meeting on Sept. 23 at 5 p.m. at Del Mar Heights. The design will then move on for approval by the school board as the district looks to begin construction by the end of the school year in 2020.

More information on the Del Mar Heights rebuild can be found at