Del Mar Heights School plan adjusted to add more green space

The newest design for Del Mar Heights School includes a new pedestrian access point here from Mira Montana cul-de-sac.
(Karen Billing)

The Del Mar Union School District continues to work with architects to improve the design for the Del Mar Heights School rebuild, making refinements such as increasing the size of the field and adding a new pedestrian connection onto the campus from the Mira Montana Drive cul-de-sac.

At the Jan. 22 board meeting, architect Rich Nowicki of Baker Nowicki Architects walked the board through the newest iteration of the design in which they tightened up and adjusted the classroom buildings to open up more space for the playing field. The addition of 16,000 square feet brings the field size to 92,213 square feet and the additional space shows an ability to do two backstops for tee-ball level little league fields.

The newest plan also moved the drop-off to a more central location in the parking lot, getting rid of some wasted space at the school’s entry as a way to be more efficient in terms of land use.

“This is the first meaningful change that we have actually seen,” said neighbor Kelley Huggett, while adding there are still solutions that can be implemented to make a better plan. “We appreciate the commitment to make that difference, we are headed in the right direction.”

DMUSD Superintendent Holly McClurg said she is excited about the design for what she believes is an “outstanding” new school— she wishes every child in the district could attend a school facility like this.

“Some have said that the district is not listening,” McClurg said. “But I am telling you, this district is listening. Over the last eight months we have listened to community, teachers and students to develop a plan and to continue updating that plan. It is our responsibility to design and build a school that meets the needs of our children. And this design is directly reflective of our district’s vision and mission and commitment to our children.”

DMUSD President Erica Halpern thanked the architect and staff’s work to be responsive to the board’s desire to maximize the use of space while also making sure that they are controlling costs, being as efficient as possible and having as much green space as possible.

DMUSD Trustee Scott Wooden was happy with the tweaks and improvements and DMUSD Clerk Gee Wah Mok said he wanted to ensure they were not sacrificing educational quality by making the adjustments.

“I appreciate the fact that the architect has sharpened the pencil, I’m starting to feel like that pencil is getting a little small,” said DMUSD Trustee Doug Rafner of the compromises that have been made.

Heights PE teacher Ian Phillip said he is glad that people who wanted the field a little bigger had their voices heard but he believes they are at the break point where there is not much left to squeeze without losing the school’s educational needs.

At the meeting, the board heard public comment from several supporters of the design as well as those who were still critical of both the design and the process.

Del Mar resident Neelum Ary said she attended all of the design meetings last year and found the district to be open and collaborative—she said every time she comes to a board meeting she sees improvements in the plan.

“I want to thank the numerous community members who have spent numerous hours raising the profile of the need to preserve as much of the green space as possible, without which we would not be here today with an increased field size,” Ary said.

Del Mar resident Katherine Sohn said while she was pleased to see some improvements to the field space, she still had concerns about the plan.

The newest design for the Del Mar Heights School campus.

“The current plan constructs an unneeded road that runs the entire eastern length of the school,” Sohn said. “Eliminating this road would free up a tremendous amount of space that can be returned to the field and blacktop, making this a much more well-thought through school plan and help in bringing our community behind this plan.”

Nicole Pentheroudakis also said she appreciated the increase in field size but she personally wouldn’t have taken so much from the classrooms but rather from the parking lot queue and the 17,000 square feet in the northwest corner that is proposed to be a community park. “That corner should be back in our school,” she said.

Resident Rolf Silbert submitted and circulated an alternative plan for the rebuild prior to the meeting—his plan doesn’t remove anything from the design but duplicates the parking and queuing on Mira Montana rather than on the school footprint and places a parking lot on the northwest corner, resulting in a field that is 130,000 square feet (30,000 square feet smaller than current field).

DMUSD President Halpern thanked Silbert for his design and Delehanty said that they have asked the architects to consider Silbert’s ideas. DMUSD Trustee Katherine Fitzpatrick also asked that the architects continue to explore utilizing the northwest corner as an outdoor learning space.

Following the board meeting, Play Outside Del Mar founder John Gartman said he was grateful that the district made some movement to enlarge the play field after months of “public uproar”. However, as he wrote in a letter to the board, he still feels the district is misrepresenting the proposed field size at Del Mar Heights by about 14,000 square feet by including the granite path, boulders, garden and trees in the field calculation.

By his calculations, the field has increased to 78,000 square feet, which is 49 percent of today’s field.

During public comment, Del Mar Heights parent Li Yang shared a story about growing up in China where her school was just three-story buildings with a blacktop in the middle. She spent all of her free time outside. “I learned playing outside is a state of mind. It will happen regardless of the size of the field.”

“Green is always good... But there are other things that are more essential, more important to our task here which is to build a new school. Amazing things happen on the field and even more amazing things happen inside the classroom,” said Yang. “As a community we need to come together now… Let’s build a school now and let’s keep playing outside in Del Mar.”