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A rendering depicts a proposed rebuild of Del Mar Heights School. Courtesy photo
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Judge vacates Del Mar school rebuild plan

This story has been updated with new photos.

DEL MAR — A judge temporarily halted the Del Mar school district’s plan to rebuild an elementary school in a Dec. 22 ruling, ordering the district to reevaluate certain aspects of its project.

Since 2019, the district has been planning to demolish and rebuild its 61-year-old Del Mar Heights K-6 campus, using Measure MM bonds approved in 2018. The district intends to construct one-story facilities and an expanded parking lot with a new drop-off/pick-up lane, including on part of the existing playing field, reducing the field’s size.

Under the auspices of Save the Field, a nonprofit corporation consisting of a group of residents who oppose shrinking the field, sued the district last summer.

Save the Field’s “purpose is to save the fields,” according to a June court filing. Though its complaints encompassed numerous other issues, including fire safety, vehicle emissions, light glare, habitat preservation, mitigating asbestos and other chemicals, stormwater outfall pipes, and construction and operational noise.

Since 2019, the district has been planning to demolish and rebuild its 61-year-old Del Mar Heights K-6 campus. Courtesy photo

Judge Joel Wohlfeil of the San Diego County Superior Court dismissed most of these complaints, including those relating to field size.

“The impact associated with community recreational use is insignificant,” Wohlfeil wrote in his ruling. “Although the rebuild project will result in changes, these changes are not significant for purposes of a CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] analysis. [Save the Field] fails to cite to any evidence within the record (e.g., comments from residents) demonstrating otherwise.”

“The small reduction in space will result in two smaller baseball fields, instead of one small and one larger field within the existing area,” Wohlfeil wrote. “However, the space available for other activities would increase. For example, new pathways and redesigned open space would encourage fitness walking.”

Additionally, “There is no demonstrated potential for a significant impact related to wildfire and emergency/fire access,” he said.

Wohlfeil sided with Save the Field on three counts. He agreed the district failed adequately to study how to mitigate potential (1) construction noise, (2) added traffic to an adjacent residential street, and (3) environmental impacts to the coastal habitat.

“What the court is doing at this point is deferring,” he said at last week’s hearing. He instructed both sides’ attorneys to “focus in on the specific disputed provisions” and to submit alternative proposals for his further review.

“I’m hopeful there are as few provisions as possible that you don’t agree upon,” he said.

Both sides claimed some degree of vindication.

“In finding that 10 out of 13 of the complaints were without merit, the decision demonstrates that the district and our consultants acted responsibly in the design,” according to a Dec. 22 statement.

“Save The Field has believed all along that [the school district] violated the law by preparing an insufficient environmental document, shortcutting review of its project … without regard for the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA),” spokesman Rick Schloss said in a statement.