Facilities needs discussed at Del Mar school district outreach group meeting

By Karen Billing

A lack of shade, parking lot bottlenecks, collaboration spaces being used for storage, and pesky wood chips on playgrounds were among some of the problem issues at Del Mar Union School District campuses expressed at the Oct. 1 meeting of the district’s outreach group.

Group members were meeting for the second time in their efforts to help the district prepare a Facilities Master Plan and they were able to get specific about each of the eight school sites’ needs and wishes.

An additional meeting was added to the group’s schedule on Oct. 29 at 3 p.m. at Del Mar Hills Academy, focusing on demographics, enrollment projections and funding challenges in addressing the master plan. The meeting will precede the town hall meeting open to all community members on Nov. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at Del Mar Hills Academy.

School site representatives were grouped together at the meeting and asked to come up with ways they could improve educational adequacy, building conditions, as well as potential safety and health issues on campus. The goal, as the district prepares the master plan, is for all facilities to be flexible, collaborative, connected and student- centered, said Kate Mraw, an interior designer with LPA Architects, the district’s facilitator in the master plan process.

Don Pender, of LPA, and his team toured all of the district campuses and gathered impressions of each school’s conditions.

“In some districts we see a lot of variety and inequity between sites. I don’t see that in your schools at all,” Pender said. “Obviously, the district thought a lot about what amenities need to be at each school.”

Pender graded schools by their conditions: Ashley Falls, Sage Canyon, Sycamore Ridge and Ocean Air (all built between 1998 and 2007) were graded “A” schools.

Torrey Hills, built in 2002, was graded a “B,” Del Mar Hills and Del Mar Heights, built between 1958 and 1975, were graded “C” and Carmel Del Mar, built in 1991, was considered the most in need of modernization and graded a “D.”

Pender stressed that although some campuses are older and need improvements, they are all very well maintained.

Of the four schools graded an “A,” Pender said there are strengths in the point of entry, flexible learning spaces, indoor/outdoor connections, and ease of access to the library. Places where they could improve are parent interaction spaces, covered lunch areas and flexible furnishings.

Pender said Carmel Del Mar has severe HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system problems, lacks collaborative spaces, way-finding is difficult on the campus, the administrative office space is restrictive, and the library is constrained.

“Carmel Del Mar is 21 years old now and we need some love,” said Principal Eileen Delaney.

Randy Wheaton, director of maintenance and operations, said that CDM was built without air conditioning and the HVAC was a retrofit. In addition to a new HVAC, Wheaton said the roof needs to be addressed, as well as the lighting and electrical system, carpeting and flooring.

“The MUR is also where we park our golf cart,” said Delaney. “It’s not an operating MUR.”

While Pender rated their library as needing improvement, Delaney said she actually likes where it is located — centrally, with classrooms surrounding it.

Of all the school sites, Del Mar Heights has the most re-locatable buildings with 13. Principal Wendy Wardlow said the re-locatables are antiquated and they would like to see them replaced with permanent buildings.

“We’ve got the greatest school in the world but since you asked…” Wardlow said before listing their facilities needs and wish list items.

Wardlow said that if a toilet flushes in building D the whole building shakes; there are poorly designed pie-shaped classrooms; no space for small groups; and not enough parking — there are 47 parking spaces and 60 staff members.

Wardlow also said the entrance to the school is “really ugly,” adding that the shields need to be removed because it looks like a circus and she would also like to see their outdoor space enhanced to be more interactive and whimsical, noting “Ocean Air is kind of like our dream.”

“We love our school but we do have issues,” Wardlow said.

The group from Del Mar Hills was looking for an overall “freshening up.” The school has some odd room shapes but they are good-sized rooms — the group felt what they most need is collaboration spaces. Between pods of four or five rooms they have a small room, but they are mostly loaded up with storage materials. Kindergarten classrooms also don’t have their own bathrooms and they have to walk in pairs to the health office.

“We love our library,” said parent Juli Oh. “It’s a funky space but we love that it is the hub and everything is around it.”

At Torrey Hills, the group noted there is no air conditioning in their multi-use room, not adequate space in music and technology labs as class sizes are getting larger, and there is a need for good outdoor lighting and an outdoor PA system for events.

There is often standing water and mud on their playfields due to drainage issues. Teacher Jodi Nielson said they understand a track would be extremely expensive, but they wondered if it would be possible to do something there to simulate a track for running and other activities.

“We have a nightmare of a drop-off and pick-up,” said Principal Barbara Boone. “It backs up all the way to the street, it needs to be redesigned….It’s a safety issue more than anything else.”

Ashley Falls Principal Chris Delehanty said the carpets — although regularly cleaned — have 15 years on them, grass is needed in the kindergarten play area, and their library is packed with books, which needs to be considered as the district moves toward creating library/media centers. He also said there are some campus security issues, such as needing blinds on windows and doors.

At Sycamore Ridge, the desks are really large and as classrooms have upward of 28 or 29 students there’s not a lot of room for movement. The group said the pre-school housed on campus also needs room to grow and a more defined point of entry.

The playground equipment at Sage Canyon is showing its age and they could use better lunch-serving facilities.

Principal Ryan Stanley reflected that as the newest school, their campus is in excellent condition but they would still like more flexible furnishing to open up space in classrooms and a focused point of entry for parents similar to what Sycamore Ridge has.

To learn more about the facilities master plan process, there is information posted on the district’s website at