New Pacific Highlands Ranch Community Park design to feature alternative recreation for teens, kids

The design committee for the new Pacific Highlands Ranch Community Park has expressed a preference for bringing some unique alternative recreation facilities, such as a parkour obstacle course, an adventure garden and a pump track for BMX and mountain bike riding.

At the group’s Nov. 10 meeting, the committee advised park designers Schmidt Design Group to find room for these activities as well as plenty of field space for sports, passive contemplative spaces, a full outdoor basketball court and continuing a view corridor and promenade from the Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch.

The committee decided to move away from a more highly programmed option with five tennis courts, as they take up a lot of space. There is a hope that San Dieguito Union High School could allow public use of the courts at nearby Canyon Crest Academy.

The committee also would like less asphalt — less parking lot and more park.

At the meeting, Glen Schmidt of Schmidt Design presented renderings of three design alternatives.

One design option placed the recreation center near the center of the property, creating a “central hub” with back-to-back baseball/softball backstops and play areas.

Both Guy Hagen, the vice president of the San Diego Youth Rugby Club, and Carmel Valley Recreation Council President Marilee Pacelli said that configuration would restrict how the large play area could be used. They would not be able to fit full-size soccer, rugby or lacrosse fields without a portion of the field being in the infield dirt.

Hagen and Pacelli said having the field be partly dirt is not ideal playing conditions, noting it creates uneven surfaces and the dirt tends to get “rock hard” baking in the sun and could cause injuries to players who fall.

They suggested instead moving the backstops to alternate corners to free up more flexible playing field space. Hagen said there is a real opportunity to create a pitch that does not exist in San Diego. “I think this would be a marquee field for the city,” he said.

In planning the accompanying 17,000-square-foot recreation center, the gym will be a little larger than the city’s recommendation, with 11,500 square feet, providing room for movable bleachers. The gym floor will allow multiple configurations for basketball, volleyball, and badminton uses.

Per the committee’s recommendation, there will be a separate gym building and multipurpose building with an enclosed courtyard between them.

For the architectural character, Jim Gabriel of Hanna Gabriel Wells Architects said they listened to the committee’s recommendation to be modern but to “take cues from the surrounding community” so the facility fits the neighborhood.

Gabriel said they plan to bring in materials like white walls, textured stone, terra cotta and clay, weathered steel and wood to soften the modern look.

The committee preferred a rendering of the gym building and multipurpose building with a long weathered steel roof paired with lower tile roofs.

Schmidt said they can design the park’s parkour area to feature interesting sculptural elements, and there are many exciting opportunites for natural play in the adventure garden.

Schmidt said they are taking cues from Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, which features a network of pathways and play zones in its adventure garden, with features such as upside down trees (weeping European beech), climbing walls, discovery paths with logs and a maze with mirrors. Schmidt noted that Maggie Daley had the advantage of a much higher budget, but there is a lot of inspiration to draw from.

The committee placed less priority on a proposed skate plaza in the park, as there are skate parks nearby in Rancho Penasquitos and Carmel Valley.

“There is nothing for kids who ride bicycles,” said Chris Powell, noting he would rather see space used for the pump track and for local teen-requested areas like the parkour course.

The committee’s next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 8 at Pacific Trails Middle School. Ideas for the new park and recreation center can be emailed to