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Final Del Mar Heights workshop held

Above: Teachers and administrators provide input and comments on early visuals of the future Del Mar Heights rebuild. Photo by Lexy Brodt

DEL MAR — Teachers, administrators and parents sat around tables in the Del Mar Heights multi-purpose room on May 30, hovering over a design layout that could form the foundation for the elementary school’s long-awaited rebuild.

The rebuild became a reality in late 2018, after voters approved a bond measure (Measure MM) to fund the construction or revitalization of Del Mar Union School District campuses. Del Mar Heights is the only campus that will be completely razed and revamped.

The preliminary visual on display was the culmination of four recent workshops in which the project’s architect — BakerNowicki Design Studio — gathered feedback on the needs, facts and goals associated with the now 60-year-old campus.

Workshops saw teachers and parents exchanging thoughts and ideas on the ideal layout of classrooms, outdoor learning spaces, and the campus’s current irksome drop-off and parking situation.

BakerNowicki will be coming back after the summer with a more definitive design.

But its initial illustrations envision classroom areas grouped together in interconnected learning “villages,” several maker spaces and outdoor learning areas. The designs also aim to provide 120 parking stalls, about three times the current amount.

The layout reveals the possibility of a drop-off area opening onto a terrace at the front of the school, which leads into an amphitheater space, play zone and field.

The layout of the buildings and open areas is meant to open up the view corridor, take advantage of natural lighting and promote flexible spaces.

The project’s architect, BakerNowicki Design Studio, presented an early visual of the Del Mar Heights rebuild to campus stakeholders. The visual illustrates a network of classrooms split into “villages,” several maker spaces and an outdoor area meant to take advantage of the campus’ existing views. Visual courtesy of BakerNowicki

The architect identified some of its main goals as reducing vehicle congestion, improving pedestrian safety, improving the vehicle drop-off situation, maximizing parking, maintaining neighborhood views and providing emergency vehicle access.

Neighbors, parents and teachers were able to share their last round of comments at the meeting, before the architectural team hits the ground running this summer.

Paige Rollins, a second-grade teacher at Del Mar Heights, said that she particularly likes the design team’s ongoing focus on flexible spaces, and the way nature is incorporated in the preliminary layout.

She said it would be nice to have more spaces on campus that meet teachers’ immediate needs, rather than simply having to “wing it” in order to make a specific activity work.

“I’m happy with the progress, because our school needed it,” she said. “I feel like I need facilities to match the way I’m teaching.”

A third of the current campus is composed of portable classrooms, which have been deteriorating — Rollins said she has had to attach tape and tarps to parts of her classroom in order to prevent leaks.

Rollins said that cleaner, safer classrooms that are less restrictive in size will help teachers have “more choice, and more tools.”

“When you have the tools, you feel empowered to do better,” she said.

Pat Freeman, who has lived on Boquita Street adjacent to the school since 1975, said she is primarily concerned about traffic, and that there be a route for emergency vehicles.

She said she hopes the rebuild can be done in a year’s time, but regardless, she looks forward to the final product.

“It will end up being great,” she said.

The plan outlines a new drop-off scheme that would have parents entering the school off of Boquita Drive and perhaps exiting toward the back of the school — although the architects and district are not yet sure if such a layout is possible.

Chris Delehanty, the district’s executive director of Capital Programs & Technology, said the district will have to work with the city of San Diego and the county in order to see if it’s possible to have another exit — the school currently only has one entry/exit point.

But teachers and parents weren’t the only ones who had a voice in the project — students were challenged to design aspects of their future campus, which were then on display in the school’s library and taken into account by the design team. Each class tackled an element of the future project, whether it be the library, playground or classrooms.

When it comes to constructing the project, the district has several options — each with their respective pitfalls. The design team presented an option that would keep kids on campus by bringing in portables and approaching construction piecemeal, but the architects projected it would take about two years.

In contrast, transferring students to portables on the district’s Del Mar Hills campus, or to both the Del Mar Hills and Ocean Air campuses would reduce the length of construction to one year.

“The district has a lot to think through,” said architect Jon Baker.

The district anticipates the new and improved campus could be open as soon as August 2022.