Construction costs projected to increase for Del Mar Hills Academy modernization

Del Mar Hills Academy
Del Mar Hills Academy
(Karen Billing)

The Del Mar Hills Academy is coming in about $3 to $6 million over budget as the Del Mar Union School Board continues to weigh its construction options.

The school, built in the 1970s, requires a major structural rehabilitation for a seismic retrofit which has already pushed it over the original $20 million budget. Plans for the upgrade include removing all portables, enhancing classrooms and the innovation center, improving the school’s entrance and a reconfiguration of the driveway and parking lot.

At the May 24 board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Chris Delehanty wanted board direction on whether to move forward with the project as designed or consider a reduced option to keep the district on its timeline and budget. The district is hoping to develop construction documents to submit to the Division of State Architects by the end of the year and to start construction in summer 2024.

Due to the campus’ single access point, Delehanty said it will be more costly to construct with students on site. This means phasing will need to be incorporated to complete the work.

With construction occurring with students remaining on-site in a phased approach over two summers as designed it will cost $26 million. With students off-site, without factoring in interim portables or busing, the project will cost $22.8 million.

If the board decided to strip out all of the classroom improvements, the project could be brought down closer to budget at $21.7 million.

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

“It does concern me to go over budget. But it also does concern me to strip it down to no improvements to the classrooms because we’re looking at a project that wouldn’t impact the kids as much as we’d hoped,” Delehanty said. “I’m providing you no perfect option and I recognize that. Our goal throughout is to impact kids. So I have a concern about a modernization that doesn’t impact classrooms.”

The majority of the board did not want to see anything taken out of the design. They gave direction to keep the scope of the project the same and to have the conversation on phasing and whether to keep kids on-site or off-site during construction at a future meeting,

“Heights and Hills are the two oldest schools in our district,” board member Doug Rafner said. “They pushed MM over the finish line so I don’t want to shortchange them in their classrooms.”

Board Clerk Katherine Fitzpatrick was concerned about the lack of public input or outreach on the topic. The item was discussed under “Facilities update” on the agenda and the information was not provided ahead of time.

“I don’t think this is fair to our Del Mar Hills community,” said Fitzpatrick. “We have to inform them that they have the potential to be losing a lot here. And without sharing that information to the community, I don’t feel comfortable making that decision.”

The majority of the board shared those hesitations, with board member Erica Halpern suggesting more community outreach, more analysis and a budget workshop.

Board President Gee Wah Mok also wanted to schedule a more thorough discussion of the overall Measure MM bond program. The new Pacific Sky School project came in $2.5 million under budget and the Del Mar Heights rebuild will be an increase due to the year’s worth of construction delays. With a overall look at the bond funds, board member Alan Kholos agreed they will have a better understanding of how much is left and how their decision on the Hills will impact other projects districtwide.

Delehanty said the board will hear the revised numbers for the Heights at the June 21 meeting.