Beyond Green Award Winner

Redding School of the Arts

General Information

North elevation exterior photo of the redding school of the arts

North Elevation of the Redding School of the Arts

  • Building Name: Redding School of the Arts
  • Building Location:
    • City: Redding
    • State: California
    • Country: USA
  • Project Size (ft², m²): 77,091 ft²
  • Building Type(s): Educational
  • Project Type: New Construction
  • Delivery Method: Design - Bid - Build
  • Total Building Costs: : $28 million Construction
  • Owner: The McConnell Foundation
  • Building Architect/Project Team:
         Architect: TRILOGY Architecture
         Contractor: Gifford Construction
         Landscape Architecture: Shapiro Didway Landscape Architecture
         Geotechnical Engineering: Brown & Mills
         Water Consultant: Natural Systems International
         Civil Engineering: Sharrah Dunlap Sawyer
         Structural Engineering: Kibler & Kibler Architecture and Engineering
         Mechanical/Plumbing: M/E Systems Engineering
         Electrical Engineering: PACE Engineering
         Lighting Designer: Benya Lighting Design
         Acoustical: Charles M. Salter Associates
         Technology: Varsity Technologies
         Building Enclosure: The Façade Group
         Sustainability Consultant: Green Building Services
         Furniture Design: Whalen Berez Group
  • Project Contact Person: James Theimer, A.I.A. LEED AP BD+C Principal, TRILOGY Architecture


Open air second floor

Open air second floor
(All photos courtesy of Whittaker Photography)

Located in a small northern California city with a population of 90,000, the Redding School of the Arts is the first new school campus in the world to achieve Platinum certification under the LEED for Schools 2009 standards. It was conceived in 2007 as a "tool for teaching green" for the 500 students attending this new K-8 elementary school. With funding provided by a locally based philanthropic foundation and a goal to achieve both LEED Platinum and Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) certification, the 77,000 square foot public charter school has been designed with a balance between traditional design elements and innovative technology concepts. It begins with the siting of the building on a mostly flat five-acre parcel located adjacent to single-family residential development to maintain most of the existing mature oak trees within the new parking and playground. More than half of the school's learning environment has been placed outdoors despite being located in a climate with extreme temperature variations. Construction of site improvements commenced in 2008, with completion of the building and occupancy in August of 2011.

Overall Project Goal/Philosophy

With this school, the design was the result of four separate strategies identified in the earliest programming sessions with the client, and the connection between those strategies:

  • The connection between indoors and outdoors
    This is a building where half the learning spaces are outdoors, despite being located within a region with hot, dry summers and cold rainy winters. Classrooms are not rooms as much as a series of learning spaces; spacious, well-lit outdoor hallways transform into "learning streets"; cafeterias are replaced by small-scale "theme" cafes, a gymnasium becomes a series of dance and exercise studios, and music rooms literally open up to an outdoor theater.
  • Outdoor theater and seating, view of stageOutdoor theater and seating, view from stage

    Outdoor theater and seating

    Art classroom

    Art classroom

  • Creative learning spaces
    Creating a footprint for maximum daylight provides an opportunity to alter the traditional rectangular classroom shape into a multi-purpose space with room for flexibility in room arrangement for teaching of large groups as well as breakout areas for smaller groups or individuals. Large picture windows are provided to take advantage of the outside views, and acoustical wall panels are perfect for student art.
  • Affordable energy
    Energy use is reduced significantly when more than 39,000 square feet of the building are located outdoors. This space is protected from inclement weather by roof overhangs and operable garage-style doors, and air temperature is moderated by evaporative cooling fans and strategically located radiant heaters.
  • Building as a teaching tool
    All three of these strategies become part of the idea that this building is a tool for teaching green. A catalog of more than seventy green features included in the school's design has been assembled for use with the ongoing education curriculum, and divided into six separate categories:
    • Food for thought
    • Earth, water and the air we breathe
    • A healthy discussion
    • Energy: Conserve & create, reduce & recycle
    • How buildings work
    • Creativity & learning together


With regard to natural hazards, although much of the learning space is located outdoors, these areas are protected from extreme weather conditions by the building envelope. Security is enhanced by controlled access through the lobby, with all outdoor classrooms enclosed with landscaped courtyard screen walls. Motion sensors trigger exterior lighting, and all hallways are visible with windows looking out from every classroom.


Sustainability begins with the parking area designed to take advantage of the shade of existing mature oak trees. Visible storm water bio-filtration is combined with reduced irrigation and rainwater storage to teach the importance of water management to students. The building is sited such that 100% of the general classrooms are oriented to the north, both to allow for maximum natural daylighting and cross ventilation with the prevailing breezes. Traditional design techniques of eco-friendly insulated walls, roof overhangs at the south orientation, and west-facing rammed earth walls are combined with more high-tech solutions such as ultra efficient glazing, rain screen exterior walls, and computer controlled lighting. As a result, energy use was 75% less than the ASHRAE baseline building in the first year of operation.


The technology solution is based on the idea of "designing for the future we don't yet know". As a result, the school was designed for 100% of the students to have wireless access in 2008, well before that was considered a necessary component of new schools. Each classroom has been provided a "technology wall" that combines a smart projector with a traditional whiteboard for optimum adaptability to different teaching styles. In response to the importance of performing arts in its curriculum, each classroom has the capability to act as a sound studio, with the ability to broadcast student activities within the school or to other schools anywhere in the world with Internet capability. Perhaps most importantly, ongoing training of the teachers is an integral part of the project scope.


The building meets all of the requirements for accessibility of the ADA and Title 24, but goes beyond those requirements, especially in the areas of acoustics and special needs. Each classroom has been designed to strict LEED standards to aid children with minor hearing disabilities within the classroom while limiting intrusion of exterior noise. The hallways have no code requirement for sound mitigation, but as noisy as they can be during class changeover, custom designed acoustical walls have been added which successfully dampen the sound. The classroom furniture not only includes special student desks for wheelchair access, but adjustable height desks for children who fall outside the norms for their grade level. A site-stand desk has been provided as well for those students who have trouble staying seated, and all the chairs have ergonometric ability to rock slightly. Teacher desks are height adjustable as well.


It can be argued that beautiful buildings that make their inhabitants feel good are sustainable for that reason alone. Balconies add to the variety of spatial quality, and the central outdoor theater is a gathering space for socialization. Unusual features abound with "small doors" into kindergarten classrooms, a library gathering space called the "spaceship", and an indoor slide into the theater. The color palette for the exterior of the building is designed to blend with the texture of its natural surroundings, with decorative rammed earth walls framing the main entry, and one hundred year old recycled redwood highlighting the outdoor learning streets. Color is an integral part of the interior design, with classrooms designed to accentuate the non-rectilinear walls and exposed structure with a palette that changes as children rise in grade. In the end, the school has been designed to allow the children who inhabit it to contribute to the overall aesthetic. Wall ball courts in the playground are designed for students to paint with their own distinct designs, and the outdoor hallways have numerous displays for student art.

The spaceshipRecycled redwood at the gallery

Left: The spaceship; Right: Recycled redwood at the gallery


Designed to the standards of LEED Platinum necessarily dictated the use of durable materials with low impact on the environment. From the very beginning with the design of the concrete paving for the parking areas surrounded by drought tolerant plantings, decisions were balanced between environmental impact and cost-effectiveness. The funder's goal was a school that could be seen as a model school relying on public funding, and as such, needed to make fiscal sense with every design decision made.


Main entry to school

Main entry to school

Creating a healthy environment for the students is divided into two components: creating a healthy physical environment and promoting a healthy lifestyle. With 50% of the learning spaces located outdoors, fresh air is never a problem. In an attempt to mitigate the effects of going inside and out all day long, the outdoor areas in this school have been "semi-conditioned" with radiant heating in the winter and evaporative cooling in the summer. When the outside temperature is 100 degrees, this cooling design creates a more moderate temperature of 80 degrees. The same concept is utilized with radiant heating on cold days. Lifestyle design is centered on exercise and healthy eating. An extensive outdoor area was conceived as an "almost natural" playground, with areas of grass, rocks, and water complemented by a sports court to promote team activities. Play equipment such as a climbing web, zip-line, and slide mound are designed to improve specific skills. A cooking classroom, gardens, orchard, and chicken run supplement the existing healthy-lunch program (which uses mostly organic products). The gardens and chicken run are student-designed ideas that have been incorporated into the building plan to educate students about healthy eating and connecting with the sources of food.


Overview of Process

For three years—from the beginning of programming until the school opened—regular project meetings were held between contractor, architect, and client to discuss and resolve ongoing challenges in a timely manner. A wide range of specialty consultants were engaged at different times in the process, with these meetings serving as an opportunity to keep everyone on the same page. The architect kept the parents, teachers, and students apprised of progress from early design efforts through the end of construction during school assemblies. This inclusiveness resulted in a school community being comfortable with a process where almost everything except the completion date were constantly in flux.

Pre-Design/Planning Activities

The school was originally designed for a different site with a different architect. That design team was merged into a new team when funding became available for a green school on this site. The client's goal for LEED Platinum certification necessitated additional specialty consultants to be added as the design evolved. Their challenge was to develop the design even as construction commenced in early 2008 to meet the accelerated schedule for opening a new school. As a result design continued to be refined as new technology and lighting controls became available.

Design Activities

Throughout the design process, the design team was encouraged by the client to go further, to think about how this school could be not just an eco-friendly model for new schools, but a way to redefine how students and teachers interact within their physical environment. The motto for this project became "Design Never Ends", and came to symbolize the commitment on the part of the owner, architect, and contractor to build the most environmentally advanced school possible within reasonable budget guidelines. That means that every design element had to pass the test of durability and sustainability versus cost.

Construction Activities

Due to the accelerated schedule for completion of the school, construction started even as design was still being finalized. Adding to that challenge was the inclusion of products and technology being developed specifically for use in this project. This resulted in the necessity to work with vendors and building agencies to gain agency approval even as construction kept moving, a process that often resulted in the contractor's need to modify their typical sequence of work.

Operations/Maintenance Activities

With so many computer-driven operating systems utilized within this design, training of school staff was critical to their being successful. An effort was made to reduce teacher anxiety about whether or not they would be able to use their classroom by demystifying the systems through a series of in-service training sessions to get everyone comfortable with the new technology. Since school has opened, the emphasis has shifted to "gentle behavior modification" in the form of meetings to discuss what really constitutes a comfortable learning environment.

Post-Occupancy Evaluation Activities

Since occupancy, multiple tools have been utilized to determine the success of design strategies, as well as make changes to improve ongoing building operations:

  • A Building Dashboard is accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, depicting on a daily basis energy use, generation, and water use.
  • A separate PV dashboard provides specific and more detailed data for analysis of energy generation on a daily basis.
  • A lighting control dashboard provides specific and detailed data on lighting energy use on a daily basis.
  • A Dark Sky monitor has been installed as one of 20+ locations in the world to measure nighttime light pollution.
  • Interviews with teachers, administrators, and children have been conducted to evaluate feedback on the first year of occupancy.
  • The design team maintains an ongoing dialogue with the facilities staff regarding unforeseen maintenance and operations issues.


During design of the project, several analyses were prepared by consultants on water, building envelope, and lighting to help in critical design decisions. A building energy model was prepared using eQuest software, and compared to lighting-specific computer modeling to determine projected energy use versus energy generation. The construction documents were created through a 3-D software program, ArchiCAD, which allowed the building model to be modified as necessary even during the documentation phase for bidding and later construction. Physical models of the classrooms were critical to the understanding of teachers who would ultimately move into these rooms.


The building envelope materials consist primarily of a rain screen wall system, metal roofing, and ultra-high efficient glazing. The cement siding product was selected for its cost-effectiveness compared to other rain screen products. The majority of windows were designed to utilize high quality nail fin windows in lieu of a more expensive storefront system, the architect utilizing the resulting cost savings to specify the most energy efficient window glazing available. Decorative rammed earth walls have been chosen for their combination of durability, beauty, and educational value to students. The HVAC system is based on a geothermal heat pump design. Renewable energy is provided by a combination of crystalline and thin-film PV panel, a vertical axis wind turbine, and solar thermal water heating. Interior walls, floors, and ceilings are comprised of recycled materials such a rubber flooring and toilet partitions made from recycled soda bottles, rapidly renewable resources such as bamboo flooring, and zero VOC paint for all interior finishes.


Energy Use Description

At the direction of the funder, the school has been designed as a model for future public schools, placing energy and budget responsibility ahead of the popular notion of Zero Net Energy (ZNE). The design team was challenged to get as close as possible to ZNE with a photovoltaic system adding no more than 3% to the total project budget.

An integrated design strategy was developed that included:

  • Optimized site orientation and building envelope that maximize daylighting of classrooms with minimum heat gain
  • Covered, semi-conditioned, and totally daylit spaces including an amphitheater, café eating areas, and exercise courtyards
  • Covered and totally daylit hallways designed as weather-protected "learning streets", with more than 50% of learning space located outdoors despite a less-than-ideal climate
  • State-of-the-art lighting control system and "dark school" exterior lighting
  • Geothermal HVAC system
  • Aggressive control of plug loads

Energy modeling analyses using conventional software and assumptions were challenged by the design team, with a belief that the school could approach ZNE using only about 60% of the PV capacity originally recommended by energy consultants. A web-based building energy dashboard is currently being used to collect and analyze energy use. If successful, the project will provide new ideas for low cost ZNE buildings.

But the ultimate performance of this building involves more than the electrical energy used. Some schools use rooftop rainwater collection to provide relief from public water system use. But this school takes that idea one step further; located in a region where there is little rainfall for seven months of the year, an aggressive water-saving design has been combined with a 175,000 gallon underground storage tank to provide for 100% of yearly irrigation needs. The initial cost of the underground storage would not seem to be a cost-effective solution based on current water costs. In this case, the client is thinking about how future water costs could significantly increase as expected water shortages become more pronounced, making this in fact the most cost-effective strategy possible over the duration of this one hundred year building. Using the building dashboard, a review of the first year shows yearly water use to be about 95% less than a typical building model of this size and type.

Annual energy use by fuel
Electricity: 350,000 kWh

Annual Energy by end use
Heating/cooling: 115,000 kWh
Lighting: 52,000 kWh
Domestic Hot Water: 6,000 kWh
Plus loads & equipment: 127,000 kWh
Other end use: 50,000 kWh

Annual on-site renewable generation
PV: 187,000 kWh
Wind: 0 kWh (estimated at 5000 kWh when operational in second year)

Peak use
Connected lighting load: 0.35 W/ft²

Data sources and reliability
Based on simulation? No
Based on utility bills? No

The data is provided by multiple "dashboards" that monitor energy use, energy generation, lighting, and water use. Most for this information is available to anyone with access to the Internet. The specific dashboards include Building Dashboard by Lucid, Green Glance by Lutron (lighting), and MyPVData (PV & wind generation).


Indoor Environment Approach

One hundred percent of the general classrooms are oriented to the north, with a larger perimeter wall area to maximize daylighting. Single-loaded galleries allow for substantial cross-ventilation of those classrooms. Classroom windows opening to the south provide filtered daylight through a translucent roof canopy. Beyond that, this school introduces the idea of outdoor air quality.

Project Results

A. Lessons Learned

The funder for this project established as a priority selecting durable building materials to reduce maintenance and replacement costs. The building has only been occupied for one year, so it is difficult to evaluate how much savings in maintenance costs might be realized.

Energy savings are much easier to quantify, and so far they have been substantial. Because the school will have minimal or no cost in electricity or water, and solid waste disposal is significantly reduced due to an extensive recycling program, utility costs are not a large factor in the budgeting process. This allows the opportunity for funding of a larger staff, with the consequence of smaller class sizes even as the state education budgets continue to shrink.

The community's enthusiasm for this new school has resulted in record applications for enrollment even as other schools in this area are experiencing reductions in enrollment. New parents have frequently cited the "green" character of the new school as a primary reason they choose to enroll their children at this school.

The extent to which these goals were met may best be summed up in the client's own words:

"In designing Redding School of the Arts' new campus, our architect created a visionary school that met the challenges of our programmatic requirements and far exceeded our expectations. From the beginning we required that the facility seamlessly blend the site's unique outdoor location with the inside learning areas, creating multiples spaces and environments for children to learn and express themselves, all within a space that was as environmentally friendly as possible and yet designed to be a "cool school." The design affords students the ability to learn in classrooms lit mostly with outdoor lighting from windows spanning floor to ceiling, making the outdoors seem part of their indoor classroom. Students are already taking advantage of the learning street areas of the semi-conditioned outdoor hallways; collaborating and learning in an inside/outside space that mutes our region's extreme summer heat.

As designed, the students are already creating art on outside walls designed for that purpose, and holding break-out class sessions in the outdoor classroom and courtyard spaces. The talk of the school and much of the students' initial lessons, has addressed the school's key green features and light load on the planet. They are proud that the school is targeted to reach LEED Platinum status with points to spare, and without prompting, will tell their families and visitors about their favorite green feature of the facility. All of this is accomplished in a space that is not a drab, minimalist place with green features, but a truly environmentally responsible, vibrant, living learning environment filled with whimsical, child-centered features that engage students wherever they may be on campus; a school that more than met our programmatic requirements and the students' dreams."

B. Ratings

  • Platinum certification from U.S. Green Building Council LEED for Schools 2009, May 2012.

C. Awards

  • Honor Award, Sustainable Buildings Industry Council Beyond Green High Performance Building Awards, March 2012
  • Design Excellence Award, National AIA Educational Facility Design Awards, March 2012
  • Grand Award, Learning by Design Magazine Educational Facility Design Awards, May 2012
  • Silver Award, 6th Annual Collabetition Awards, May 2012
  • Citation, American School & University Magazine 30th Annual Architectural Portfolio, August 2012
  • Award of Merit, Engineering New-Record California Best Green Projects, September 2012

D. Publishing

  •, 2009
  • "Colorful California Elementary School Sets 50% of its Classes Outside"
  • Learning by Design Magazine, October, 2012
  • Modern Steel Construction, November, 2012
  •, "Where Arts & Earth Collide: Rethinking School Structures", September, 2012
  • American School & University Magazine, November, 2012