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Public comment period to close on Del Mar Heights School rebuild

A rendering of the front of the Del Mar Heights School campus.
(Courtesy)

The 45-day public comment period for the Del Mar Union School District’s draft focused environmental impact report (DFEIR) for the Del Mar Heights School rebuild is set to expire on Friday, June 11.

The final environmental review document is anticipated to be circulated from June 18-28 and approved at the board’s June 30 meeting. At that point, it would be filed back with the court and upon resolution of litigation with Save the Field, the district could resume the coastal development permit process with the city of San Diego.

Due to Save the Field’s legal challenge of the district’s previous environmental review, the district was required to analyze whether the sensitive habitat in the neighboring Torrey Pines Reserve Extension will be disturbed due to repairs of stormwater drainage systems and further study the impact of temporary noise from on-site construction of the school.

The document states that there are no significant, unmitigated biological impacts associated with the two stormwater outflows and it also found that the construction noise issue was “less than significant” with the addition of mitigations such as noise walls.

The Heights rebuild’s objectives are to modernize the campus with better learning spaces for students, improve circulation and reduce off-site congestion by increasing parking and drop-off/pick-up zones, and provide the public with updated recreational amenities including an amphitheater, green spaces and a canyonside walking path.

Some in the community, including Save the Field, opposed the loss of the school’s open field in the new design. In the lawsuit, the judge ruled that the impact associated with the changes to the community recreational use were not significant for purposes of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis.

To provide needed security for students and staff during the school day, the rebuild plan includes fencing and gates. In reviewing the proposed fencing plan, neighbor Greg Jabin was concerned about an eight-foot high ornamental steel fence that runs across the front of the northwest corner of the school. His submitted comments to the DFEIR question what the fence will look like and if it will block community access.

“The rebuild site plan and numerous supporting diagrams and renderings made this look like an inviting park for the neighborhood, and labeled it as such, yet nowhere were any eight-foot tall steel fences shown or described,” Jabin said. “There has been no prior discussion with the community, no opportunity for the neighborhood residents to weigh in on this tall fence, and only now through the public comment process can we bring this issue to everyone’s attention.”

Although it was discussed as a school feature throughout the design process and reported in this newspaper, the community park was not included in the design approved by the board, according to Chris Delehanty, executive director of capital programs and technology.

Per both the mitigated negative declaration (MND) and the DFEIR, the existing kindergarten area at the northwest corner will be converted to “an outdoor learning area, which would provide green space and a viewpoint. The outdoor learning area would be designed for educational programs for the students.”

During the design process renderings were shared for a community park that included features such as a tot lot, linkage to the canyonside trail, viewpoint seating and an art wall. It was proposed to be outside of the secured main campus and open during school hours. When the board approved the design in May 2020, President Erica Halpern made a comment that the park would be open “all day.”

However, Delehanty said as the district went through the design process, they talked about ways to make the space more accessible to students: “It is still a part of the school campus, it is not just a community park,” he said at that May meeting. He said that in February 2020, prior to the release of the MND, the district moved away from programming the space as a community park and instead as an outdoor learning space for students.

Per the DFEIR, the school plan includes providing the public with enhanced recreational amenities and states that public access to the site will remain.

Delehanty said the district is still in the process of receiving comments on the DFEIR and they will “thoughtfully and fully” respond to all comments received, including questions about the fencing and access. The response to comments and the final environmental review document must be available to the public for review for 10 days prior to the board’s consideration.

All of the CEQA documents are available to the public to review online at dmusd.org/Page/8854


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