San Dieguito school district considers new Solana Beach office

SDUHSD board members and staff look at different ideas for a new district office.
(Karen Billing)

The San Dieguito Union High School District is exploring the option for a new district office, moving from its building on Encinitas Boulevard to a newly-constructed building on the Earl Warren Middle School campus in Solana Beach.

First proposed last fall, plans are still early in the process as the district conducts feasibility studies and begins to develop an overall schematic design with Ruhnau Clarke Architects.

“The purpose behind this is as the district has grown, there are aspects of the district that didn’t grow with it,” said SDUHSD Superintendent Robert Haley at a special meeting on July 29.

Haley said when the district began, it consisted of just one high school and one middle school in Encinitas. “This building was once a nice location, it no longer is when a significant portion of our district is on the southern side of the district,” he said.

The district already owns the land in Solana Beach and, symbolically, it is centrally located for the district. The proposed location on the Earl Warren campus would be the site of the interim campus when the new school was built—it was also used by Skyline School in the 2017-18 school year as its new campus was built. Currently the space is a playing field.

In addition to a centralized location, Haley said the second driver for the project is one of functionality.

“This building was designed as a medical office building, it was never designed to house the functions that occur administratively in the district and it doesn’t reflect what we want our culture to be which is open, transparent and collaborative.”

Haley envisions the new building to be a community center for the students, families and communities that they serve.

The cost of the new facility has not been determined although the district would not be using Prop AA funds. Haley said they do not plan to sell the current building but to use it as leverage. To finance the new office, Haley said they could take out a loan using the building as an asset or borrow from the district’s facility dollars. An appraisal of the Encinitas building has been ordered.

As the plan has developed, board members and staff have taken field trips to other school district offices, including a newly-constructed building in Palm Springs, Poway Unified’s reconditioned building and Coronado Unified’s more residential facility.

Haley said Palm Springs’ $30 million model was the most well-received in terms of the connections it made between different district departments, something that has been lacking in the district’s current facility.

Steve Prince, of Ruhnau Clarke Architects, also a district parent, said the conversations right now are focused on how the district wants to use the space as that will drive the ultimate square footage of the new building. Over the last few weeks, each district department has met with the design team, sharing their needs for an efficient office space as well as desires for a lobby entrance, conference rooms, professional development space for 50-70 teachers, technology upgrades, a small test kitchen for culinary arts students to present their work at board meetings, and an idea for a wellness center with treadmills, exercise bikes and showers.

The design team walked the board and superintendent through a similar exercise at their July 29 meeting, defining what they would like to see in the building and the board room. They discussed utilizing outdoor spaces, security, a place where student work and achievement can be displayed, technology improvements and a better board room. Some ideas pitched for the board room enhancements were television screens for projecting agenda items, the height and shape of the board dais and a countdown clock for public speakers.

Trustee Kristin Gibson said the idea of building a community hub was something that appealed to her as well as meeting their needs administratively and meeting the needs of the students.

“What I’ve heard very clearly from the various groups is to make sure that there’s a space to celebrate who you are as a district because frankly, your identity is a little lost in this building now of who you are and what great things you’re doing with the kids,” Prince said.

SDUHSD Vice President Mo Muir had a lot of questions about the project, sharing concerns about the financial implications and wanting to ensure that the board would be able to justify the need for a new office to the public when it was not a priority when they went out for a bond in 2012.

Muir said she resented what Prince said, that the building doesn’t identify or define the district.

“This is an amazing school district, to think that this defines us? We don’t need this building, everyone is clawing to get in here,” Muir said. “We don’t need a new building honestly, because this is a smokin’ school district…It would be great if we had this building but it’s not going to change who we are or what we do.”

Gibson clarified that they are looking at the new office as just one opportunity for the district to establish an identity and a sense of community, “I didn’t hear anything that said we weren’t a smokin’ school district,” she said.

There is an opportunity for a reception and lobby that is more of a warm, welcoming space, using district colors and branding, as well as celebrating the history of the district with photos and installations. Since arriving to the district in September, Haley has made similar efforts in the board room, adding the district logo and all of the school logos to the wall.

“We do have quite a few parents and students that have to come in this building and it’s not a welcoming feeling. So that’s part of the desire to have a purpose-built building, to be more welcoming,” Haley said, noting in the Poway district they even call their school offices “Welcome Centers.”
“We want the community in, we want our students in, we want our teachers in…there should be a friendly, open environment that’s going to serve their needs,” Haley said

SDUHSD President Beth Hergesheimer said they do not know yet abut the cost and feasibility of the project but she believes that vision planning is a valuable process--if the funds become available, they can be prepared.