Del Mar school district to purchase new office space for maintenance, tech departments

The DMUSD office building in Torrey Hills.
(Karen Billing)

This summer, Del Mar Union School District has a list of facilities projects it is planning to complete. In addition to the completion of the new Pacific Sky School, there will be modern learning studio upgrades in 42 classrooms districtwide featuring new carpet, paint and flexible furniture; field renovations at Del Mar Hills and Sycamore Ridge; and new play structures at Ashley Falls and Carmel Del Mar Schools.

At the June 22 meeting, the board considered two additional facilities projects that serve district staff. The board approved the $925,000 purchase of a new office suite in Sorrento Valley to expand the maintenance, operations and technology’s department and also rejected a plan for a new training center on the Torrey Hills School campus.

The request for a new professional learning center came as a recommendation from district staff.

The district purchased the office building on El Camino Real in 2010, moving from its old home at the Shores property in Del Mar. The building’s large meeting room was intended to serve as the training center, however, due to the construction of Torrey View complex next door, the district has lost its parking spaces and can no longer accommodate staff for training, according to Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Chris Delehanty.

They need space for up to 50 participants for professional development sessions that last three to four days.

Delehanty said they have considered transportation, facilities rentals and the possibility to combine two existing classrooms to create a training center on one of their campuses. Staff’s recommendation that day was to analyze converting two existing portable classrooms at Torrey Hills—the space had been used for the Early Childhood Development Center, which moved to the Ashley Falls campus in January 2021.

If directed by the board, staff would bring an architect forward for board approval to start the design work. The estimated cost would be $1 million from Fund 40, the fund for capital improvements which currently has a balance of $6 million.

In the board’s discussion of the proposal, Trustee Katherine Fitzpatrick said she wanted to ensure that there wasn’t any other use for Fund 40 funds. She was also concerned about using space at Torrey Hills if it could be potentially used by students.

Given lessons learned from the pandemic, Trustee Gee Wah Mok also questioned if the training could be done virtually. While it might not be ideal, it was still an option. Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Shelley Petersen said that the district is committed to face-to-face professional development: “Our professional learning needs to occur in person,” she said.

Unconvinced about the need for a permanent facility to solve what could be a temporary parking problem, President Erica Halpern suggested they continue to pursue partnerships to find space to use, like Carmel Valley’s AMN Healthcare’s meeting room or reaching out to neighboring school districts. She even pitched the idea of potentially selling the Torrey Hills office and finding a new building that better meets their needs, an idea which prompted a vehement head shake from Trustee Doug Rafner.

“I think that there are more alternatives to explore here before we go down the road of building a $1 million training facility,” Halpern said, and the board did not agree with moving forward.

The district’s maintenance, operations and technology department has a need for more space in its location in Sorrento Valley. Workspace has become tight with at least one closet being used as an office —Delehanty said there isn’t sufficient space for necessary equipment, supplies and to work on repairs and other projects.

In 2019, the suite next door to the district’s office had been considered for a cannabis retail facility, which the district opposed. With that proposal abandoned and the space coming available, Delehanty said there was an opportunity to expand with an additional 1,787 square feet right next door, including offices, a conference room, two restrooms and an open workspace area.

At the June 22 meeting, the board approved the purchase of the neighboring suite, tapping Fund 40 dollars. Halpern said that there was a difference between investing in the space versus constructing the training center, as it is an asset that the district can retain and, if needed, sell.

Hills and Heights
As part of his facilities update, Delehanty shared that the Del Mar Hills Academy modernization has been slowed due to the need for a seismic retrofit.

“We are at a point now where we are over-budget for the whole project,” Delehanty said. “Because the school was built approximately 50 years ago, all of the concrete walls will need to be replaced.”

Per the facilities master plan, the Hills modernization will replace the campus’ five portable classroom buildings with permanent buildings, enhance the innovation center, re-imagine classroom spaces, reconfigure the front office and make playground and field improvements. The original timeline had construction tentatively beginning this summer with completion in fall 2023.

Delehanty said the district is finding out exactly what will be required for the retrofit and working with the architects Lionakis to adjust the scope. The classrooms and buildings remain the priority with the upgrade but they are looking to identify additional funds to address all of the campus’ needs.

While construction on the new Pacific Sky School is on track for the August opening, construction on the new Del Mar Heights School remains halted due to Save the Field’s lawsuit against the city’s approval of the coastal development permit.

The district has requested that work be allowed to continue in the neighboring Torrey Pines Reserve Extension, repairing two failing stormwater outfalls in the canyon. The outfall has already created a gully and the repairs will protect against continuing erosion, invasive species and issues on the trails, Delehanty said. On June 6, California State Parks wrote a letter to Procopio, the firm representing Save the Field, recommending that the work go forward but Delehanty said there has been no response.

“We are baffled that this critical environmental work is being held up by Save the Field,” Delehanty said.

Budget approved
On June 23, the board approved a budget for 2022-23 with a $80,168 surplus and retaining a 23.8% reserve.

The budget reflects a $1.3 million contribution from the Del Mar Schools Education Foundation and a 5% increase in property tax revenues. Expenditures in the budget include a 5% increase to the salary schedule, increased staffing for the new Pacific Sky School, lower class sizes in the upper grades, social and emotional learning supports, transportation for students due to the Heights rebuild, and implementation of the Universal Meals program, the new state law that requires all students are provided free breakfast and lunch regardless of income eligibility.

Implementation of Universal Meals, as well as the district’s new central kitchen that will open in January 2023 at Pacific Sky, will require new serveries to be built on each campus. That work is also expected to be completed this summer.