Carmel Valley planning board approves high school district’s new configuration plans for PHR Middle School

By Karen Billing

The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board approved the San Dieguito Union High School District’s (SDUHSD) new configuration plans for the district’s Pacific Highlands Ranch Middle School at the planning board’s Feb. 27 board meeting.

The board voted 11-1 in favor of the school district’s plan with one abstention. Christian Clews voted against the proposal and Hollie Kahn abstained. Planning board chair Frisco White recused himself from the vote as his architectural firm is working with SDUHSD on a future project.

The original Pacific Highlands Ranch community plan was for the community park to be joint-use with the middle school and be a total of 20 acres. The proposed layout on Village Center Loop Road was Canyon Crest Academy, the middle school, the middle school fields and community park, and then the residential community of Airoso.

The school district now plans for the 15-acre middle school campus to be in the center of the proposed park, with 7.8 acres of facilities open to the community on the other side of the school, adjacent to Canyon Crest Academy. That would leave the community park at 13 acres with a shared parking lot with the middle school.

John Addleman, SDUHSD director of planning services, said rather than having the middle school have joint use of the community park, they were able to purchase seven additional acres by the Pacific Highlands Ranch Fire Station to supplement CCA’s ballfields.

The new orientation provides for a buffer between the middle school and high school campuses, as well as provides a more economical way for the district to maintain its fields.

Addleman said a nice connection will be made from the park to the middle school’s track and field and hardscape courts (including basketball courts) that will be open for public use.

“We’re trying to give parks and recreation the biggest park they could have by giving up some of our visitor parking. We wanted to create the community connection between the park and the middle school and provide the park some relief by having access to that as well,” Addleman said. “I think this really is the best solution.”

Resident Ken Farinsky said he worried that the park is losing something because the middle school field is so disconnected, but he was glad that the field would be open to the public as CCA’s field, tennis courts and track have not been.

Karen Dubey, who lives in the Airoso community, said she liked the plan.

“I’m usually a community plan purist but I like how you’ve honored the intent of the community plan,” Dubey said.

Dubey also commented that a big concern for the community is school traffic, especially with the two schools side by side and the addition of the Solana Beach School District’s new Solana Ranch Elementary across the street.

Addleman said they do not intend for CCA and the PHR middle school to have the same start times and that they will also utilize a “zero period” option which allows students to start and leave a period earlier.

Addleman said the plan is for the campus to begin construction in May through August of this year, with the first classroom building expected to be ready for students in fall of 2015.

Pacific Highlands Ranch (PHR) has long been in need of field space for residents and PHR’s first park, recently renamed Solana Ranch Park (formerly Gonzales Canyon Neighborhood Park), is set to open at the end of this year.

The park’s playground was also recently named The Scott Tillson Playground, in honor of Tillson, a long-time Carmel Valley planning board member and advocate for the Pacific Highlands Ranch community’s growth. Tillson passed away in 2011 after playing a big role in the 2010 passage of Proposition C that untied PHR’s development from the completion of the Interstate 5/SR-56 connectors.