ENCINITAS — San Dieguito Union High School District leaders said they are committed to moving forward with a long-awaited aquatic facility at Torrey Pines High School even as they face a major jump in project costs.
The planned aquatic facility, the final phase of a three-stage athletic facilities project, would provide the first on-campus pool in a district with over 800 aquatics athletes who participate in sports like swimming, diving and water polo.
San Dieguito families and coaches have been pleading with the district to provide pools for years to offset the burden on athletes who rely entirely on pools in surrounding areas, which often require practicing early in the morning or late at night.
“A pool is best for our children. Practices would happen at school at reasonable times and allow our kids more time for studying and sleep, both essential for student-athletes,” parent Misty Green told the school board on Tuesday.
After over a decade of discussions and delays, plans for the aquatic facility are currently awaiting approval from the Division of the State Architect, a process anticipated to take several more months. Once approved, the project can go out to bid.
However, San Dieguito leaders informed the district board at its Tuesday meeting that project costs have grown significantly since the last review in early 2022, and the $14 million set aside for the project is no longer sufficient.
Superintendent Anne Staffieri said the district needs to figure out how to fill a $6.9 million funding gap before they can move forward.
“We need a stronger financial plan if we’re going to go out to bid,” Staffieri said.
According to Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Pearl Iikuza, an updated review of the project in December found that construction and equipment costs have grown from $10 million in 2022 to $17.8 million. Additional soft costs such as programming, permitting and contingency bring the total price tag to just under $21 million.
This increase is partly due to higher costs in the construction industry, staff said. The district also identified the need for additional mitigation costs due to unexpectedly poor soil conditions and opted for an overall larger building and pool deck to accommodate programming needs.
Leaders are currently considering multiple options to make up the funding shortfall. There is the possibility of using an additional $6.5 million currently sitting unused in Fund 40, which is composed of reimbursement funds that can only go toward capital projects.
However, the district will have to wait until these funds are audited in May to know for certain how much can be used.
“It’s not freely available at this point to shore up the shortfall,” Iikuza said. “We clearly need to think about ways to supplement funding sources.”
In response to this, the district board granted approval for the superintendent to explore fundraising options such as the creation of an aquatics booster nonprofit, partnerships with local groups like the YMCA, or entering rental agreements for the facility.
In order to prevent any further delay in putting the project out to bid, Staffieri also recommended immediately engaging in conversations with the facilities subcommittee and community members to discuss a path forward, including possible ways to cut project costs.
Over a dozen parents and student-athletes spoke at the board meeting in support of moving forward with the pool. Several individuals, including members of the longstanding San Dieguito Pool Feasibility Committee, said they are ready to help the district push the project over the finish line.
“You have an army behind you,” said parent and committee member Marc Alldredge. “Let us help you remove barriers. Let us be collaborative in going through that cost model and understanding where things can be trimmed.”
Once it breaks ground, the project is expected to take around 14 months, according to the district.
Board members all expressed their commitment to moving the process forward in order to make the aquatics facility a reality. Trustee Katrina Young said while she has some reservations about the financial status of the project, she is optimistic.
“While there’s one way of looking at the numbers tonight, that we don’t have enough money to build a pool today, but the flipside is that we’re close,” Young said.
Despite optimism about the long-awaited project, disagreements arose midway through the discussion when Trustee Michael Allman emailed his fellow board members a resolution that was not included in the meeting agenda, which he asked them to approve.
Allman’s self-authored resolution declared full support for the pool and suggested that the district designate funds from other unstarted Measure AA projects to close the funding gap.
Trustees Young, Rimga Viskanta, and Jane Lea Smith declined to support it and said they were frustrated that Allman would send a surprise resolution without allowing district staff, the superintendent, or the public to review it first.
“I don’t appreciate surprises mid-meeting when I’m trying to pay attention at a meeting… This feels like a political stunt, which is unfortunate because we are all working so well together,” Viskanta said.
Trustee Phan Anderson seconded Allman’s resolution and said she questioned whether the other trustees were really in full support of the pool project.
Ultimately, the board approved an altered resolution in a 4-1 vote, with Anderson opposed, stating that the board intends to build the pool and directing the superintendent to collaborate with staff and the community to gather details about how to fund and move forward with the project.
Chloe Chen, a junior at Canyon Crest Academy on the water polo team, said while the aquatics community in the area is very strong, not having a central facility to use takes a toll on athletes.
“To not have that kind of really strong representation here without a pool, without a main center that we can gather around to have these events… to have these 5 a.m. practices, to have these inconvenient times, to have all these away games and take away from such a highly academic district, and to take away from that and impact our mental health, is truly tragic,” Chen said. “It’s really necessary to have a pool to be able to support our athletes like that from a much closer distance.”
In the first phase of the larger Torrey Pines sports facilities project, the district renovated the school’s athletic fields and tennis courts and repaired amenities at the school’s softball fields in response to Title IX complaints.
The second phase proposed modernizing the school’s locker room and constructing a new building with new team rooms. However, the price of that phase also grew significantly from $6.4 million to just under $11 million due to inflation in construction and labor costs.
As a result, the district board agreed in December to eliminate plans for the team rooms for the time being and just move forward with the modernization.