By Karen Billing
After hearing valuable feedback from community members, the Del Mar Union School District will go ahead with moving the Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) from Sycamore Ridge Elementary School to Torrey Hills Elementary School, but have settled on a “Plan B” that impacts less classrooms at the school.
The board voted unanimously to approve the adapted plan at its Sept. 17 meeting.
Instead of re-configuring 12 classrooms at Torrey Hills for the ECDC, the district will instead utilize nine classrooms and two portables currently used by the after-school program. The eight classrooms include one kindergarten classroom that will be re-designed as administrative offices for the ECDC. The plan also includes a new 30-space parking lot.
Plan B also addresses some Torrey Hills parents’ concerns that K-6 students would be placed in portables rather than permanent classrooms.
Parent Julie Broadwin thanked the district for listening.
“It’s nice to feel like your thoughts are being taken into account. The configuration is still not great…but Plan B is definitely better than Plan A,” Broadwin said.
The original Plan A’s total cost had been $1.9 million, including construction and all of the associated fees. The district did not present the new cost for the approved Plan B, although Assistant Superintendent Cathy Birks said that it would likely be reduced. The board last week approved the $182,000 first step, which is to proceed with architectural and engineering design.
The cost will be funded through the district’s Fund 40 special reserves for capital outlay that currently has a balance of $2.4 million.
About $699,000 of Community Financing District funds will be used to complete some other projects at the school, including the mounting of LED projectors and new lunch and shade structures.
DMUSD Superintendent Holly McClurg said the ECDC decision has been a long and thoughtful process, based on a lot of input, especially in the last few weeks.
The district has an urgency to move the project forward because as new homes are built in Pacific Highlands Ranch the district needs the increased space at Sycamore Ridge by fall 2016.
Broadwin said she understood the district’s tight timeline, but she wished they could delay just a little bit as many members of the community are still upset, feeling like they didn’t get enough of a chance to weigh in on the project.
Her concern was echoed by parents Giovanna Carr and Brenda Bilstad.
“Parents don’t feel like they were really part of the process…it took everybody by surprise,” Carr said. “I think there needs to be a little more time to address some other concerns before we end up with a really big problem.”
McClurg showed a list of 13 meetings in which the plans were discussed. Many of the meetings were Facilities Master Plan Outreach Committee meetings over the last year. The meetings were held at Del Mar Hills Academy and the committee discussed facilities needs district-wide. A meeting was held at Torrey Hills in December 2013 when the plan was for a new 13,000-square-foot facility at the school, a plan that was opposed by the Torrey Hills Community Planning Board.
Most recently, a community meeting was held on Sept. 8 and McClurg visited Torrey Hills’ principal’s coffee events on Sept. 5 and Sept. 11 to discuss the plans.
Bilsted said she felt the information presented wasn’t consistent, especially when the plan changed from new construction to reconfigured classrooms.
“We need timely and consistent information that’s parent-friendly and the parents need to be engaged in a meaningful way,” Bilstad said. “We’re emotional…this will change our school, which is the heart and soul of our community, forever.”
Parents also worried about the new surrounding developments and how their enrollment will be impacted. Jason Romero, assistant superintendent of human resources, said that through the facilities master plan process they did a lot of studies on capacity throughout the district.
Parents questioned whether the schools on the west side of the district with lower enrollment, such as Del Mar Hills Academy, had been considered to house the ECDC.
Romero said Torrey Hills has the most classrooms available. He noted that the Del Mar Hills and Heights communities are actually seeing an increase in enrollment due to the turnover of homes. Romero also noted that while Del Mar Hills Academy has the lowest enrollment, it also has the fewest classrooms.
Of the 88 units currently occupied at the new, neighboring Torrey Gardens development, 21 students have been generated.
Romero said they have used the highest generation factor to estimate that there will be 145 students at Torrey Hills Elementary School from the 484 units at Torrey Gardens and Ocean Air (Torrey Hills developments).
Romero said even with the highest predicted influx of new students, there will still be capacity at Torrey Hills Elementary School as the enrollment is projected to decrease in the coming years due to smaller class cohorts and less students from the existing homes.
As the district is growing, Romero said if it’s not 100 ECDC students at Torrey Hills, it will be 200 kindergarten through sixth grade students because they will need to house children somewhere.
Parent Clare Lemon said to some extent the district is looking into a “crystal ball “on its enrollment projections and she is concerned about what would happen if the district is wrong.
She said Torrey Hills is one of the district’s more dynamic school sites, where the neighborhood around the school is undergoing big changes.
“It seems shortsighted. (The ECDC) should be in a place where it can grow and the K-6 population can have some flexibility as well,” Lemon said.
Trustee Alan Kholos said because of input heard from parents he’s asked a lot of the same questions and has been satisfied with the answers and studies the district has done.
“I have a high level of confidence that this is a good decision,” Kholos said.
One of the biggest concerns expressed about the addition of the ECDC to the campus is regarding traffic, which parents say is already a very dangerous situation. Lemon said there are no crosswalks and the parking lot needs another exit as there have been near misses with students and cars.
The district is hoping to employ a staggered start time for the ECDC and the rest of the school so all of the students won’t be arriving at once.
DMUSD Board President Doug Rafner and Kholos said the district should address the traffic problems at the school regardless of the ECDC.
The crosswalks are a city issue but trustee Kristin Gibson said the district may be able to come up with some alternative solutions, such as working with the police department or safety patrols.
“Most students in the apartments will walk to school, causing a change in circumstances,” Rafner said. “The city allowed the development to be built in an area where people need to cross the street so they should do something to make it safer.”