Del Mar Heights students likely to be split between Del Mar Hills, Ocean Air during rebuild

Del Mar Heights' aging portable classrooms will be replaced in next year's campus rebuild. The students will attend off-campus for one-year.
(Karen Billing)

The Del Mar Union School District is narrowing down its options on where to house Del Mar Heights School students during the one-year construction of the new school in 2020-21.

The district held its fifth community meeting on student location on Sept. 12; another meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 26 from 5-7 p.m. at the district office.

According to Executive Director of Capital Programs Chris Delehanty, the district has analyzed multiple options for housing students including keeping them on-site during construction, moving them all to Del Mar Hills Academy, dividing students between Del Mar Hills and Ocean Air or splitting students across the three campuses of Hills, Ocean Air and Sage Canyon.

While no final decision has been made, Delehanty said the best option seems to housing students on satellite campuses on Del Mar Hills and Ocean Air.

“We’ll be good neighbors and houseguests I promise you that,” said Del Mar Heights PE specialist Ian Phillip.

With that option, the district’s proposal would be creating a satellite K-3 Heights campus at Del Mar Hills with 236 students coming over for a total enrollment of 501 students. The satellite 4-6 Heights campus at Ocean Air would bring 206 additional students to the school for a total enrollment of 786.

The $650,000 option would require the use of nine rooms plus one portable at Ocean Air and 13 rooms and four portables at Del Mar Hills. The portables at the Hills will be placed on the blacktop, not on the field.

Busing would be provided for students traveling from Del Mar to Carmel Valley. Delehanty said they decided to move the younger classes to the Hills as parents might be more likely to use bus transportation for older students rather than the younger set.

At each satellite campus, the students would have their home teachers and administration—there would be no impact to class sizes at Ocean Air and Del Mar Hills. Each school would function separately and wouldn’t even share recess or lunch time, allowing them to maintain their unique school culture and events like Science Olympiad at Ocean Air and Heights Dancefest.

“Continuity of programs is clearly important,” Delehanty said of the input they have received.

STEAM + staff at each school site would remain, Delehanty said, although some parents questioned whether the STEAM facilities would still be equally accessible to both school’s students.

Due to public input regarding traffic, Delehanty said the district is exploring the possibility of staggered pick-up and drop-off.

“I go to Ocean Air Park next door because I don’t want to get involved in that gong show,” said one parent of the traffic situation at Ocean Air School during pick-up and drop-off. “We talk about busing but a lot will still drive…we can’t continue to put the onus on our principal to play police officer.

The parent suggested the district give a little more consideration to the traffic impact and consider having police presence to help support the principal in enforcing the rules for safety and traffic flow.

Parents also expressed concerns about safety for students crossing Del Mar Heights Road to get to school. Delehanty said the district continues discussions with the Torrey Pines Community Planning Board and the City of San Diego about a new potential stoplight at Mercado Drive. The district has also advocated for better sidewalks on Del Mar Heights Road.

As one Hills parent expressed, there is a fair amount of pushback for their school doubling in size--currently the enrollment at Del Mar Hills is 264 students.

“What benefit is the Hills receiving?” the parent asked. “Why is this good for my school?”

Delehanty said with the public input process and its own analysis, they are trying to get to the best answer for all kids.

On-site phasing at Del Mar Heights School would extend the construction period from one to two years and cost about $5 million more. The safety of children attending a campus that was partially under construction is a concern and there would be no field space, no multi-use room and no parking lot which would lead to a number of impacts to the neighborhood.

Moving all students to Del Mar Hills would be an even more significant increase to the overall enrollment at the school—a total of 707 students. The option would cost $2 million, requiring 15 portables on the field which the district would be required to run utilities to and provide ADA access.

Splitting the students between the three sites would cost the least at $200,000 but Delehanty said the option was not looked at favorably as it would not allow the schools to maintain their individual cultures, staff and the continuity of educational programs—students would be integrated into the existing campus rather than having a satellite campus for a year. While there would be have less of an impact, Del Mar Hills would still be gaining 170 students.

There was some infighting between parents at the meeting, with the perception that people weren’t welcoming or supporting Del Mar Heights students.

“I don’t think the district was saying there was going to be a benefit… there’s not going to be a benefit of having my daughter at your campus for a year,” said a Del Mar Heights parent. “But I thank you for accepting us because we can’t be at the Del Mar Heights campus (during construction).”

“It’s not going to be fun for anybody but we have to find a way to make it work as we’re going through it, to be civil and kind to each other,” echoed another parent. “The attitude that we present to our children will be what they mirror.”

Some parents also questioned the benefit of a satellite campus versus an integrated site. While they understood the philosophy of a satellite campus, they worried there might be unintended consequences, “It should not be us vs. them,” one parent said.

They encouraged the district to integrate the schools as much as possible while still preserving each’s individual culture.

Delehanty said it’s not the intention for the campuses to be completely siloed—once the district makes its final decision on student location, they will move forward further refining how it will work structurally, embracing the one community, one district concept.

The Del Mar Hills modernization is the next Measure MM project after the school rebuild. Ocean Air is also scheduled for a playground replacement in 2023-24, upgrades to its modern learning studios and innovation spaces are ongoing and the school is set for a modernization in 2028-29.