The Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) took several steps toward calling for a November 2018 general obligation bond at it July 25 meeting, including approving a final revised facilities master plan and reviewing a project list and proposed ballot language for a potential $186 million bond.
The board is expected to call for the bond at an Aug. 6 special board meeting.
The previous facilities master plan (FMP) document had ambiguity about the two Del Mar schools and OBR Architecture revised the document to reflect keeping all eight schools and adding the ninth district campus in Pacific Highlands Ranch.
“We believe it is a plan that can really move our district forward,” Executive Director of Capital Programs Chris Delehanty said of the plan that includes a complete rebuild of the 59-year-old Del Mar Heights School and a $20 million modernization of Del Mar Hills Academy.
Garrick Oliver, of OBR Architecture, said that the latest version of the FMP includes a $48 million new Pacific Highlands Ranch School, improvements at all district sites and the removal of 37 portable classrooms across the district. There will be new, permanent construction of 24 classrooms across the district to address capacity lost by the removal of the 37 portables. The classrooms listed as relocatable at Ocean Air (two) and Torrey Hills (eight) are modular, of a better level of construction, and can be maintained and/or modernized. The Hills modernization includes work to create modern learning studios, improvements to the library and media center, roof repairs and creating covered dining.
The FMP does not include graphics for the new Del Mar Heights campus as the next step will be community engagement and outreach to help solve campus ingress and egress issues, and where buildings and play fields should be located on the site.
The total of all the work in the FMP is $209 million—“This is a big price tag but the facilities master plan is not your bond,” Oliver said, noting that rather the plan is where the district will extract its bond project list from.
During public comment, some Del Mar residents expressed some lingering distrust with the district after the process that they went through over the last several months which initially included a reconfiguration proposal to operate eight district schools by closing Del Mar Hills and rebuilding one new Del Mar West school. In June the board approved a revised FMP that left plans for the two Del Mar schools open ended and then in July, based on significant public input, the board agreed to update the plan and pursue a nine-school option.
Del Mar parent Julie Reynolds said the FMP and project list is “nice and beautiful” and she hopes it comes to pass, but she just doesn’t trust it.
Del Mar resident Carolyn Lee questioned whether the community was being misled about the cost or the size of the schools as the cost estimates to build the Del Mar schools have changed. Lee noted that the cost for Del Mar Hills has gone from $30 million to $20 million and the March 2018 master plan estimated $51 million for a “mega school” at Del Mar Heights while the new plan is $49 million for a smaller school. Lee said in the 2017 plan, two schools are proposed to be rebuilt for $66 million and now the budget for two schools is $69 million but they are only rebuilding one school not two.
Oliver explained that in the original 2017 plan, they didn’t have as good of an understanding for how the district operates in terms of standard and specialty classrooms (which increases the square footage) and also did not have the updated capacity and enrollment numbers. Oliver also noted a reduction in enrollment doesn’t have impact on overall cost of campus. An increase in construction costs is also built in, he said.
In response to the public comments, DMUSD Trustee Doug Rafner asked Oliver if he had any alternative plan to not follow the FMP the board approved or any hidden agenda in terms of not building nine schools. Oliver said he has no incentive to inflate the numbers and he has no hidden agenda and Rafner again stated the board’s intent to pursue nine schools, as was decided at the last board meeting.
“I’m hearing two things tonight, one is a lack of trust and one is looking for reasons not to trust. I don’t know where this all comes from because we put out a FMP, we opened it up to the community, the community gave us their feedback, we adjusted that plan accordingly and then now we’re being told that what we’re doing is not exactly what we’re doing,” Rafner said. “I’m just not sure what else we can do other than try and accommodate the best we can for kids. Because frankly, with our teachers, we could teach in a tent. But I don’t think our community would approve of that so we’re trying to give them the best facilities that we possibly can.”
Rafner noted that the plan is just numbers on paper until a bond passes.
According to the district’s bond counsel Bob Anslow, to call for the bond on Aug. 6 the board has to adopt a resolution with the maximum dollar amount as well as approve a 75-word ballot measure and the detailed project list. The board reviewed a proposed bond project list that included break-downs of projects at every school site as well as overall master plan objectives such as safety improvements, the new school construction, repairs, modernization, a centralized district kitchen and lunch service areas and solar efficiency.
Like neighboring San Dieguito Union and Solana Beach School Districts and their bonds, the district would be required to have an independent citizens oversight committee to ensure that all bond funds are used in support of projects included in the bond measure. A separate advisory committee would also work with the district on project prioritization and timeline.
In looking at the proposed project list, Del Mar resident Harvey Goldman said he had concerns about the district using the words “can be funded” instead of “must be funded.”
“It raises the question, especially given the back and forth that we’ve seen, that a set of projects could be excluded,” said Goldman, particularly in regard to Del Mar Hills. “A number of us at the last meeting were quite energized by what the board voted to do and many of us were looking forward to campaigning positively for the bond measure…my concern is that some of the language in the description of the project list raises some flags for some of us who wonder whether the concerns of the whole community have been heard.”
Anslow said it is not typical and he would strongly recommend against including guarantees in the bond measure documents. He gave the example of a district that pursued a guaranteed list of projects in a guaranteed order that got locked up on the first project and couldn’t go forward with the next projects because of the bond language.
“Think of this bond measure as a contract between voters and the school district,” Anslow said. “The goal here is to build in flexibility so that the board can react to the citizens input and future circumstances.”
Rafner said the intent of the board is to follow the FMP as approved, language that Anslow said could potentially be included in the board’s resolution.
“I believe that the concerns of the whole community have been heard and that’s the reason why we are where we are today,” DMUSD President Kristin Gibson said.