Despite challenges, Del Mar Hills modernization work continues

A rendering of the new front entrance to Del Mar Hills Academy.
(Karen Billing)

The design process continues moving forward on the Del Mar Hills Academy modernization project. The project has been delayed and is over-budget by 9.5% due to the need for a seismic retrofit—a past timeline had construction slated to begin this summer but construction is not anticipated to start until possibly late 2023.

The plans to refresh Del Mar Hills include removing portables, improving the fields, creating outdoor learning spaces, finally giving the school a lunch shelter, opening up the innovation center and rehabbing the front entrance to create a new “front door” for the school. Other enhancements aim to improve the interior circulation on the campus and bring natural daylight into the classrooms.

Now the Del Mar Union School District’s oldest campus, Del Mar Hills was built in two chunks in the 1970s, phase one in 1972 and phase two in 1978. It underwent a modernization in 2001 and the multi-use room was built in 2002. At the most recent community outreach meeting on Oct. 25, Steve Kendrick, principal architect at Lionakis, said working on a school that’s nearly 50 years old is like peeling back layers of an onion and with every layer, they found something.

A rendering of the new lobby at Del Mar Hills.

The architects have done quite a bit of investigation due to the need for the structural rehabilitation, reviewing close to 1,500 pages of documents from the 1970s. They have been working with the Department of State Architects (DSA) to evaluate what’s there, what needs to be tested, replaced and upgraded—and that work takes a significant amount of time.

With the modernization, the “must do” items now include seismic rehabilitation, accessibility infrastructure, code upgrades and fire sprinkles, which pushes the budget from the estimated $14.5 million to $15.9 million.

Some “nice to do” items such as field, play and hardcourt improvements, amphitheater upgrades and solar panels add another $6.1 million so the architects are working with the district on how to get the most into the project with the money that they have.

DMUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Chris Delehanty said the field and play structure improvements remain a high priority. The district did half the field last summer, using a different fund source. He said the district will continue looking into tapping non-Measure MM funds to complete the “nice to do” items as well as working with the builder Erickson Hall Construction on potential project phasing.

Back in 2018, the district had proposed closing the Hills and combining both Del Mar schools, however, that plan faced community pushback and was not approved. As a result, the district pursued the $186 million general obligation bond Prop MM to fund the district’s facilities needs which passed that November. Rumors and fears of the Hills closing continue to persist for some Del Mar community members.

Delehanty addressed that rumor at the last outreach meeting: “We’re definitely moving forward with Del Mar Hills.”

The next steps for the board would be to review and approve the design plans for the project to move into the construction document phase, hopefully receiving DSA approval by summer 2023.