Fail DOE

January 2020 design fails the cA department of education minimum play Field requirement – by 50%

We checked in with the California Department of Education experts after reviewing the written legal requirements for fields, hardcourts, and other outdoor play apparatus. Here’s what we learned:

A school with 151-300 students in Grades 4-6 (like the Heights) requires an initial base of 129,600 square feet of field space. You can see the heading FIELD AREAS FOR GRADES 4, 5, AND 6 and the number 129,600 in the diagram on the bottom right, for 300 students maximum enrollment.

Add to that a required percentage factor of 10% to allow “safety lanes or buffer areas to permit large groups of children to move freely on the site” and to fit irregular field areas, and you get a total of 142,560 square feet as the minimum requirement for a 151-300 student school of grades 4-6 (like the Heights).

You’ve likely seen this diagram before; now you know where we got the numbers for the first column.

Let’s now take a look at the existing Del Mar Heights field with the guidelines in mind. It shows a really good match. The four so-called “D” field units of 180′ x 180′ (from the Department of Education requirements immediately above) map almost exactly onto the current Heights’ field. Note that we stretched the top block a tad (into a rectangle) to accommodate the irregular shape of the Heights current field. We also built the 10% space buffer into the fat blue border of the fields. In other words, the fields are the green inside the blue borders and the blue borders are the buffer space between fields contemplated by the Department of Education.

What’s the orange? That’s the new proposed Heights fields, which the district claims are “adequate”. As you can see for yourself, there’s just no way to fit the four D blocks into the orange area – and you can also see why the irregular shape of the districts’ design makes usable field space really hard to come by. Additionally, this visual confirms in a simple visual way what we told you elsewhere in analyzing the size of the district’s new field: it’s less than half of the Department of Education minimum requirements (in other words, less than 2 blocks out of 4 fits the new field).

A couple obvious questions might come to mind.

First, if the district must follow the minimum requirement – designed for healthy kids – then how can they ignore it? We wondered about that too. Answer: The Department says school districts must police themselves; the Department lacks resources to do that. Schools “must” follow the requirements for a new school, but nobody’s checking-in to make sure they do comply. They don’t have to report their designs to the Department or check in with them, and we confirmed that DMUSD didn’t seek approval or feedback on their plans. Nobody holds them accountable, unless folks like us are willing to step up and do it.

Second, if you dig into the documents, you’ll notice that we actually undercount the minimum required space. Technically, we’re supposed to add even more field space for the 151-300 students in Grades 1-3 (23,760 square feet when you include the 10% required percentage factor) to the numbers we already told you about for 151-300 Grades 4-6 (142,560). Why didn’t we do that? Answer: to be conservative. We’ve heard the school might split the recess times for grades 1-3 and 4-6. If that’s true, then the site only needs to accomodate the grade 4-6 requirements for 151-300 students (the largest group on the fields at any one time). Otherwise, the numbers go up and additional separation footage or barriers are required to keep younger students and older students physically apart during a simultaneous recess. In other words, our numbers presented here are the district’s absolute best case scenario.