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Cardiff School
Construction at Cardiff Elementary School is expected to finish before the end of the month. Courtesy photo
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Construction at Cardiff Elementary School nears completion

ENCINITAS — The Cardiff School renovations are nearing completion and staff plan to open the newly constructed playground and lunch areas to students at the end of the month.

Construction began in the summer of 2019, starting with the demolition of the school’s older buildings. The Cardiff School District erected a series of new buildings in 2002, including a library, administration building and arts and science lab.

The district designed the layout of the new school around those existing buildings, Cardiff School District Superintendent Jill Vincent said.

For over 100 years, the Cardiff School has stood adjacent to North Coast Highway 101, walking distance to the ocean and beaches. As the years passed, the number of students slowly but surely increased, which prompted the school to erect portable classrooms on campus in 1989 and once more in 1994, Principal Julie Parker said.

The school needed to modernize. Three new buildings were constructed in 2002, but it wasn’t until 2016 that a $22 million bond, Measure GG, was passed to revamp the entire campus.

The district held a series of meetings to gather input from residents. The school, Vincent explained, has always been the center of the Cardiff community.

Cardiff School
A new playground was part of the renovations at Cardiff School in Encinitas. Courtesy photo

“We wanted it to be something everyone could feel proud of,” she said. “A lot of people have a lot of great memories of this campus over the decades, so we wanted it to feel like home, but modern and just an awesome place for kids.”

The 7.4-acre grounds are staffed by some 100 educators who tend to the needs of approximately 300 students from kindergarten through second grade. The school will provide new playground equipment for the students, including a new set of wall ball courts; the center of recess culture for the kids of Cardiff.

The playground used to be located between two soccer fields, which made it difficult to keep an eye on the children, and the old portable classrooms occupied blacktop space.

Before the construction, kindergarteners had two separate areas for lunch and recess that prevented some friends from spending time together. Now, there is one kindergarten portion of the school, Parker said.

The previous layout of the school presented security concerns. Public events take place on the campus all the time, from school sports and plays to voting and award ceremonies. And while this wasn’t much of a concern in the early years, times have changed, Parker said.

Before and after school programs used to be held in the center of campus. Now the programs will take place in the corner of the school, where parents can pull right up to the building to pick up their kids.

North County San Diego doesn’t get much rain, at least compared to other parts of the country. When it does come down, it used to flood the school’s soccer fields, rendering them useless in the following days. The school constructed rain basins that redirect the water away from the fields to address that issue.

“We wouldn’t be able to play on that field for a week, maybe more,” Parker said. “Now, all the water runs into that basin and dissipates more quickly. Now kids [are] able to go and play on those fields the very next day.”

Despite the improvements, the remodel hasn’t been without its challenges.

Months of drawn-out lawsuits and appeals between the school district and Save the Park over a section of the community’s beloved George Berkich Park resulted in preliminary injunctions and halted construction efforts. In November 2020, a district court judge dismissed a lawsuit, ending a year-long string of legal battles over the district’s rebuild.

The construction isn’t complete just yet, but Parker and Vincent are eagerly awaiting the day all students can return to campus. The new layout is better for the students and it couldn’t have been completed at a better time. With the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly receding, it is only a matter of time before the students return to the classroom full-time at a newly renovated school.