Enrollment projections show Del Mar school district may still need ninth school

By Karen Billing

The impact of projected new dwelling units in Pacific Highlands Ranch may prompt the need for the Del Mar Union School District to pursue building a ninth school in the future, according to some new enrollment projections. Benjamin Dolinka, from the Dolinka Group, shared DecisionInsite’s latest projection numbers with the board at its March 26 meeting.

Dolinka noted that enrollment projections are tricky, more of an “art” than an exact “science.” They analyze everything from birth rates to student generation factors from typical residences, attached and detached homes. He presented low growth, moderate growth and high growth projections for the district.

Approximately 2,750 new residential units are projected to be occupied in the district over the next 10 years. A peak is shown in 2016, when a low growth model based on anticipated market conditions shows 421 new attached dwelling units to be occupied and 145 detached. A high/moderate projection, based on plans from developers, shows that number could be 432 attached and 172 new detached units occupied in 2016.

Dolinka said they spent an enormous amount of time analyzing the situation of Sycamore Ridge School, the school closest to the new development. With proposed affordable housing units being built in East Pacific Highlands Ranch, there could be as many as 1,188 students at Sycamore Ridge by 2023.

“That’s why it may be premature to let the school site option be removed,” Dolinka said. “We still need to make sure Sycamore Ridge can accommodate new students. There are too many unknowns so we need to continue to hold that option for another elementary site.”

Even with a low growth projection, the school may hit 587 students by 2016-17, which is over the school’s current capacity of 575. Moving the child development center out of Sycamore Ridge gives the school a capacity of 825, but even with a low growth projection, the school is projected to be at capacity by 2019 with 823 students. High growth projections shows they could have over 1,000 students from 2019 through 2023.

Sage Canyon School, in another community with new developments in the works, is also projected to be right at capacity.

“We can tell that you definitely need some type of modifications made in order to accommodate all of the students that are going to be generated,” Dolinka told the board. “There is a lot more work to be done with this information being the foundation.”

The district continues to work on its long-term facilities master plan. Several outreach group and town hall meetings have been held and the plan was expected to be approved last month but has not yet come before the board.