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Planning continues for Del Mar Heights rebuild

DEL MAR — Walk into the Del Mar Heights School multipurpose room and you’ll be met with a wall of color, a bulletin board of bright Post-its and PowerPoint slides.

At first glance, it looks like any other school project that might grace the room’s walls.

But this is no typical endeavor: the hodgepodge of goals, facts and ideas represent the early building blocks of the Del Mar Heights rebuild – a long-anticipated project largely made possible by the voter approval of Measure MM in November.

Measure MM authorized the Del Mar Union School District to issue $186 million in bonds, to be spent on the remodel or reconstruction of the district’s eight existing campuses — as well as to fund the building of a new school in East Pacific Highlands Ranch.

A similar measure was also on the ballot in 2012, but failed by about 100 votes. Since then, the district developed a Facilities Master Plan, which evaluated the different campuses and their needs — determining that every campus was in need of at least a remodel.

The Measure was placed on the ballot again in 2018 and passed by 61% — it needed 55% voter approval to pass.

Now Del Mar Heights — the oldest school in the district — will undergo a complete facelift. The campus will be razed and rebuilt, with a $42 million construction budget.

The Facilities Master Plan envisions a new layout for the 10.85-acre campus, with “a central indoor/outdoor hub, a new Innovation Center, Modern Learning Studios and indoor/outdoor learning environments throughout.”

The plan also proposes a larger parking lot with safer drop off zones — a clear community priority, according to Chris Delehanty, the district’s executive director of capital programs and technology.

The rebuild is currently in the planning stages. The district brought on architect BakerNowicki design studio in April, and the design team has been conducting meetings to gain community feedback and develop a conceptual plan.

According to Superintendent Holly McClurg, the district is working with the team of architects to take community and student input and “make it a reality.”

The district anticipates the architect will come back with a proposed design by fall. Delehanty anticipates the rebuilt campus could open as soon as August 2022.

Although details are still up in the air, McClurg envisions creating “flexible and adaptable” spaces that can accommodate different learning styles, as well as more useable outdoor space.

She said the school’s teachers are excited about being able to reimagine the school’s classrooms, which are currently oddly shaped, dark and “pretty isolated,” McClurg said. The new school will have 33 classrooms in total.

In gauging community feedback, McClurg said one thing is clear: the community is looking forward to not having portable classrooms.

When Del Mar Heights was first built in 1959, it was not made to accommodate its current count of 531 students. As the campus started growing, the school brought in portable classrooms to accommodate. The portables encompass about a third of the campus and are in dire disrepair — two were condemned this year.

“We need to have safe classrooms for our kids,” district board President Erica Halpern, who has two children currently enrolled at the school, said.

The district and architects are also working on ways to “preserve the magic!” — as one meeting participant put it.

McClurg said capturing the school’s “rich history” will be part of the design process — the architects are looking at preserving beloved campus assets such as a serpent reading bench on the school’s eastern edge and the garden.

The next meeting will occur at 4 p.m. May 1 in the Del Mar Heights Multi-purpose room. For more information visit: