Design meetings kick off for new Del Mar Heights School


Built in 1958, Del Mar Heights School is long overdue for an upgrade and it is finally a possibility due to the passage of Measure MM.

While bond money will fund improvements at all eight schools, the largest construction projects will be the complete renovation of Del Mar Heights and the construction of the new school in Pacific Highlands Ranch.

The April 1 kick-off of the planning and design phase for a newly imagined Del Mar Heights was very exciting for Del Mar Union School District President Erica Halpern, a Del Mar Heights parent and former PTA president at the school. Before she joined the board in 2015, she was a part of the district’s facilities master plan process, laying the road map for making the best use of its facilities.

“This day has been a long time coming,” Halpern said. “I’ve sat in countless meetings about how to make this facility match what is happening in our educational program. It’s exciting to start the process of what is going to be a spectacular school.”

At the school board’s March 28 meeting, they approved the architectural contract with Baker Nowicki Design Studio to design Del Mar Heights and OBR Architecture was selected for the new Pacific Highlands Ranch school.

“OBR Architecture was selected for the job because they have a real understanding of our district vision,” said Executive Director of Capital Programs Chris Delehanty, citing the firm’s involvement in updating the district’s facilities master plan in 2017.

Baker Nowicki was selected for its extensive portfolio throughout the county (including Del Norte High School and Design 39 campus in 4S Ranch) as well as their community engagement style.

At the design meeting on April 1 Jon Baker, a partner with Baker Nowicki, said some of the best ideas have come from community-based planning.

“You’re going to be engaged in this process with us all the way through,” Baker told the full room of parents, teachers and community members at the first of a series of five design symposium sessions that will lead to a conceptual design for the new campus.

Upcoming sessions will be held on April 15 at 4 p.m., May 1 at 4 p.m., May 13 at 6 p.m. and May 30 at 4 p.m.

At the first meeting, the firm was looking for ideas on student needs, community needs and access, neighborhood integration and design aesthetics. Participants broke up into small groups to generate ideas and common themes continued to pop up across the room.

The school sits at the end of a residential cul-de-sac, which makes ingress and egress particularly challenging. Groups advocated for a better use of the school’s footprint, how to use the space for queuing that would alleviate traffic on Boquita Drive and Cordero Road.

The Del Mar Heights campus was never really finished—the 13 portable classrooms on campus are at the end of their useful lives and have been plagued over the years by rodents, leaks and mold. Parents spoke of the site’s challenges of safety issues and the lack of adequate spaces for outdoor dining, multi-use room, administration and music and arts.

There were many comments about the school’s very unique location, with its enviable ocean views. Participants said they would like to see the new school take advantage of those views as well as integrate with the natural canyon surroundings.

Aesthetically, almost everyone was looking for a single story design that would fit into the community: “We don’t want a mega school” one parent said. Groups advocated for a timeless design, using sustainable materials and taking advantage of natural light.

As the neighborhood has no parks, preserving the green space was also very important.

On the following day on April 2, the district held a brainstorming session for its ninth campus in Pacific Highlands Ranch, located on 10 acres on Solterra Vista Parkway. Environmental review and the school district’s purchase of the site are expected to be finished in September.

At the meeting held at Sycamore Ridge Elementary School, a team from OBR Architecture looked for input on how the campus can make connections to the adjoining future city park and nearby canyon and how the whole campus can be used for learning.

The public is invited to participate in an upcoming planning session on the initial site plan and design for the PHR school on Tuesday, April 30 at 6 p.m. at Sycamore Ridge School. The final site plan and final design will be presented at an outreach meeting on May 28, 6 p.m. at Sycamore Ridge.

The planning and approval process for the PHR school is estimated to run until September 2021. After about nine months of construction, the new school would be ready for 450 students in kindergarten through sixth grade in the fall of 2022.