The Solana Beach School District’s $105 million general obligation bond for school improvements passed on Nov. 8 with 65 percent approval. Neighboring Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) watched as Measure JJ sailed through, facing no organized opposition — DMUSD had considered its own bond for the November ballot but in the end decided the timing was not right.
At a facilities workshop on Nov. 14, all the district board and staff could do was reflect on their own bond failure in 2012. DMUSD Superintendent Holly McClurg was seeking direction from the board as the district seems “stuck” — the district has “significant” facilities needs, totaling around $126 million.
At the workshop held at the 25-year-old campus of Carmel Del Mar, the board directed staff to begin the process of updating the district’s facilities master plan and involving the community as much as they can in the process as they consider next steps, such as a bond in the next two years.
The board agreed it is important to get a conversation going, to receive input from stakeholders and craft a clear message to voters that there are needs at the district’s oldest schools and for all schools in the next 20 to 25 years.
McClurg said the district’s biggest challenge is communicating with the entire community of 25,000 people, not just the some-4,000 families that have children in the schools.
“We do really need support with the communication piece,” McClurg said, noting the results of a bond survey in the spring showed that only 53 percent agreed that the district has facilities needs and when asked about residents’ local school that dropped to 49 percent believing there was a need for improvement.
The district’s current, “comprehensive” facilities master plan was not in place at the time of the bond vote in 2012 — it was not completed until 2014.
While they have committed $6 million in funding to facilities improvements and maintenance since 2014, McClurg said there are still many needs to be met and the district receives no funding from the state (with the passage of Prop 51 on Nov. 8, the district will have a chance to get in line for some project funding but not all of its planned projects will qualify).
Del Mar Heights is 57 years old and Del Mar Hills is 41 years old. The last remodel of a school campus in the district was 16 years ago.
The biggest ticket items in the plan are school site renovations at $73 million, which includes classroom remodels, technology infrastructure upgrades, plumbing, heating ventilation and air conditioning systems. It will cost $10 million to replace 30 aging portable buildings with permanent classrooms district-wide, which includes 13 at Del Mar Heights that are nearing 25 years old and in 2015 one had to be evacuated due to rat infestations.
Board members said the revised plan should include outdoor spaces and field improvements, which came up a lot in a series of public forums the district held in 2015.
DMUSD Assistant Superintendent Jason Romero said the updated plan must also include how the district will handle growth in Pacific Highlands Ranch and the traffic that accompanies it. About 2,500 homes are on line to be built in Pacific Highlands Ranch, which will generate 500 to 600 more students. The district has shifted some programs to be able to accommodate the influx of new students at Sycamore Ridge and Ashley Falls Schools, but what they didn’t recognize was the impact of traffic from all of the new homes paired with six schools in the area.
As Romero noted, there are 12 traffic lights from the eastern boundary of the district in PHR to Ashley Falls School – many stoplights with major pedestrian crosswalk traffic.
Leaving at 7:30 a.m. from the far east boundary, it took Romero 26 minutes to drive 3.1 miles to Ashley Falls. When he left at 7:40 a.m. it took 34 minutes and he was late to school that day.
The district is looking at school start times with the neighboring school districts and working with the planning board and the city but Romero said the plan needs to take into account that future growth.
DMUSD does have the option to build a ninth school in Pacific Highlands Ranch which the board members said should be included in the master plan update.
The board also directed staff to make recommendations on an architect to work on the facilities plan. The players from LPA Architects who were involved in 2014’s plan are no longer with the firm.