Del Mar school board to take action on proposal to move Early Childhood Development Center

By Karen Billing

The Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) Board of Trustees held a community meeting on Sept. 8 in advance of this week’s board meeting where the board plans to take action on a new $1.5 million facility Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) at Torrey Hills Elementary School. The district is proposing to move the ECDC from its current home in 10 classrooms at Sycamore Ridge School to 12 reconfigured classrooms at Torrey Hills.

The board plans to take action at its Sept. 17 board meeting, after this paper’s press time.

DMUSD Superintendent Holly McClurg said the district has undertaken a multi-year process of getting information on how much capacity they have in the district and how much they will need in the future. Doors to every room in every district campus have been opened and every space examined, according to Jason Romero, assistant superintendent of human resources. Torrey Hills was the site that they zeroed in on as having the most available capacity in coming years.

Enrollment at Torrey Hills is projected to peak next year and then plateau at around 700 students, well under its capacity for 898 students. The school hit its peak enrollment of 784 before Ocean Air Elementary School opened — when the neighboring school accepted students its enrollment has dropped steadily and would be experiencing a major decline if not for the new developments at Torrey Gardens and Ocean Air at Torrey Hills. Romero said the school is rolling up smaller class size cohorts and losing students from the neighborhood houses.

After the classroom reconfigurations, Torrey Hills will still have capacity for all of the students and room for things such as the PTA and PE room.

“The school is not losing 12 classrooms, the ECDC would take up 12 rooms,” said Shelley Petersen, assistant superintendent.

The enhancements to Torrey Hills would be paid for through the community financing district, but the renovations of the classrooms for the new ECDC would come from the district’s fund 40 special reserve for capital outlay.

The ECDC at full capacity is 100 students and Petersen said it would not be possible to increase the size of the program.

About 20 parents attended the information meeting, representing several different schools. Torrey Hills parents expressed some reservations about the ECDC coming to its campus.

“I’m just concerned about the feel at Torrey Hills, that it will feel like two schools rather than one. Almost one-third of the campus will be used for something else,” said parent Brenda Bilstead.

Bilstead said she understands the district’s challenges and also said she feels the ECDC program is “exceptional” and only brings quality wherever it is — but it just might change the whole dynamic of the school, especially with its placement right at the center of campus.

Parent Suzanne Hall said the placement seems to be “disruptive.” She said at Sycamore Ridge the ECDC is located off to the left while the rest of campus is on the right. Especially with the staggered start times she said younger children would be arriving as the rest of the school is just starting to settle into their day.

McClurg thanked the parents for their ideas and she said the configuration is something that can be looked at to see what would work best for the community. Hall suggested that a design seminar with Torrey Hills parents might be useful.

Last month the board approved a re-boundary for the area known as East Pacific Highlands Ranch where new homes are being built and the district is expecting to see an influx of students in the 2017 school year. With the new boundary, students will attend Ashley Falls rather than Sycamore Ridge, addressing declining enrollment at Ashley Falls and a projected full campus at Sycamore Ridge.

With the new boundary, Ashley Falls is projected to grow from 395 students this school year to just at capacity with 689 students by 2020.

Without the re-boundary and without moving the ECDC out of the school, Sycamore Ridge would have been way above its current school capacity of 575 students with populations in the 600s and 700s. With more room, it will be under its adjusted capacity of 825 in future years.

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