We are Play Outside Del Mar – a nonprofit public benefit corporation created by citizens, neighbors, and friends of the Greater Del Mar Community.

Our Kids First Mission is to advocate for Del Mar’s scarce outdoor recreational play spaces – fields, outdoor courts, and other large play areas that our kids and community have enjoyed for more than 50 years.

The images below illustrate the scarce outdoor field and courts available to children in Greater Del Mar today:

Del Mar Heights, Hills, and the Shores – the only outdoor fields and courts in Greater Del Mar

As you can see from above, in the last half century, our community parks and fields have exclusively been the school grounds of the Del Mar Heights, Hills, and Shores schools owned by Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD). In 2005, when DMUSD closed the Shores school and offered to sell it to the highest commercial bidder, it was only through community pushback and litigation and the largest community fundraising effort in the history of Del Mar that the grounds were able to be purchased by the City of Del Mar in 2008 and partially retained for the community as a 50,000 square foot public park. Still, nearly 90% of our community fields and courts are the school grounds of Del Mar Heights and Del Mar Hills.

Generations of us have used, and continue to use, our school fields and hard-courts to raise our kids – the first bike ride, kites, soccer, little league, basketball, family picnics, rockets, races, tag, gaga, wall tennis, flag football, track and field, tetherball, stargazing, flashlight walks for “critters” – the list goes on.  Let’s be honest, without the large playing fields at Del Mar Heights and Hills, would we actually pack our cars and drive somewhere else for playing fields?

We know the value of these outdoor playing fields historically, intuitively, and now scientifically.  We ourselves have seen the quieting effect of vigorous interactive and solitary outdoor play.  Swedish physician Matilda van den Bosch even discovered that student heart rates returned to normal more quickly after stressful math tasks after just 15 minutes outside.  

Today, right now, there’s an immediate and potent threat to our fields and outdoor courts at Del Mar Heights, in the form of the District’s latest rebuild plan (January 2020).  Saving those fields and spaces will be our first organizational priority. The images below show the situation better than words can describe:

To be clear, we fully support a sensible rebuild of the school.  But the current plan shrivels the fields and hard-court areas by more than 50% – for a new school projected at 30 fewer students. The result is a small fraction of the minimum mandatory site requirement of 140,000 square feet for a new school with the population of the Heights, according to the California Department of Education rules published in 2000 and last reviewed by the Department in June 2019. For perspective, the buildings planned for the new school are double the per-student minimum under the Department of Education Rules. In short, double the buildings, double the parking, half the field (the smallest in the district and 52,000 square feet less than the district average), and half the blacktop.

If the current school design sticks, we are looking at a 1/4th reduction in total community playing fields and courts in Greater Del Mar.

Jan 2020 design would reduce total
Del Mar fields by 25%
Jan 2020 design would reduce total
Del Mar hardcourts by 25%

The new school design is a poor “trade” for children and the community – slashing the playing fields by 82,000 square feet and the blacktop by 28,000 for three new things: (1) a 44,000 square foot increase in parking, including 34 visitor spaces (which studies have shown will only increase traffic and street congestion), (2) a building footprint increase of 29% (15,000 square feet) for less students (increasing the buildings to double the Department of Education minimums); and (3) demolition of the existing kindergarten and kindergarten play areas for a new 17,273 square foot “public park” to be placed outside school grounds (because the district claims this site acreage just won’t work with the new school design, even though it has worked for more than 50 years).

The district’s approach is unnecessary and, we believe, shortsighted.  We support known design alternatives such as Rolf Silbert’s Plan 2 that saves 130,400 square feet of fields in a safer design with zero change in the district’s desired buildings. Rolf’s Plan 2 would save 52,400 feet of the 82,000 square feet that will be lost if the district proceeds with its January 2020 design.

We oppose shrinking our historical school fields and courts for extra parking spaces and a swollen building footprint; and we oppose swapping our longstanding use of school grounds for a postage-stamp size public park outside the gates of Del Mar Heights.

Check out our Play Outside Q&A for more information and a little history about Play Outside Del Mar, or our Founder’s bio for background on John Gartman.

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