College Preparatory School Math and Student Life Buildings – Design for Well-Being Award

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The College Preparatory School is known for its forward-looking mission, encompassing environmental stewardship and community engagement. Tucked within Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood, the independent high school has long demanded a level of innovation to make the most of its wooded, hillside grounds. This addition replaces outdated portable classrooms with a modern, net-zero energy academic building, unlocking broader opportunities to advance CPS’s vision for a sustainable campus that teaches by example.

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Strong attention to the disposition of the volumes on the site, both in plan and section. The introduction of terraces and decks at different elevations helps to tie together in a very pleasant way the experience of the project. The way it used the site is remarkable.

Noteworthy performance features include:

1. Exceeds the 2030 commitment threshold

2. All-electric and net zero.

//framework for design excellence measures
Measure 1: Design for Integration
We conceived the expansion as a village-like setting of small buildings. The upper-level classrooms, IT lab, and offices enjoy enhanced natural light and ventilation and framed terraced outdoor spaces where classes can meet, and students connect. The ground-level student lounge, admissions center, and restrooms activate an outdoor commons, a permeable hardscape large enough for the entire student body, establishing a new social heart for the campus. An elevator completes an accessible circulation loop uniting the entire multi-level campus.
The coronavirus pandemic and wildfire events further heightened the project’s focus on indoor air quality as a contributor to occupant health and wellness. Most days, the design provides optimal natural daylight, passive ventilation, programmatic flexibility, and connections with nature. During periods when high/low temperatures and/or poor air quality require activities to remain indoors, a low-energy VRF heat pump stands ready to supply conditioned, clean air. Nesting the building into the hillside stabilizes the site and provides thermal mass, which combines with high-performing building envelopes and robust insulation to reduce energy needed for thermal comfort. Photovoltaic panels supplement passive and active systems to achieve zero-net energy performance and allow for continued operation during utility outages.
Measure 2: Design for Equitable Communities
The project creates inclusive environments where students engage in awareness-raising, advocacy, and meaningful action for social justice and service leadership. Within the project’s classrooms, Student Commons, and a series of outdoor spaces, students discuss and plan a wide range of programs, including affinity groups, an annual equity conference, service days, and community-wide initiatives. The effort to infuse the curriculum with diverse perspectives, and creates opportunities for education and reflection within their community. This commitment to equity, empathy, cultural competence and respect is echoed in the school’s summer camp program for local under-resourced youth from the Oakland public school system.
Measure 3: Design for Ecosystems
The project was conceived as a series of small buildings shaping a village-like setting with outdoor circulation. through the exterior rather than a single monolithic structure. This design strategy was coupled with a series of outdoor terraces, courtyards, and garden spaces that facilitate an abiding connection with the surrounding natural landscape. The dependency on exterior space compels the school’s community to continually engage with the natural environment and climate, seeking sunny spots to gather during much of the year and tree-shade during the hotter months.
Measure 4: Design for Water
The entirety of the project site, roof catchments, and hardscape surfaces diverts rainwater into a series of large landscape planters engineered to function as detention basins, slowing the passage of rainwater and providing irrigation at the same time. This engineered strategy was employed to overcome the challenges of the steeply sloping valley condition of the campus and the limited percolation of the site soils.
Measure 5: Design for Economy
The design applies numerous material-saving measures to offset the site prep cost of building on a hillside. The ceiling is finished in a continuous layer of wood-fiber acoustic board instead of adding acoustic treatment to gypsum board. The buildings meet fire resistance ratings without using exterior gypsum board layers by specifying a WUI-compliant wood shingle panel and installing custom concrete cladding on the lower level. Perhaps the most impactful strategy involved reducing the required excavation by stepping the buildings up the hillside, which reduced both the amount of hillside excavation and the height and thickness of the concrete retaining walls.
Measure 6: Design for Energy
The project is all-electric, eliminating the use of fossil fuels. While the rooftop holds an array of 144 PV panels generating 44 kw of power, achieving net-zero energy performance began with optimizing passive design strategies. Clerestories, operable windows, and overhangs enable passively ventilated and naturally lit spaces. A high-performing building envelope, glazing systems, and robust insulation, combined with utilizing the thermal mass of the concrete foundations and retaining walls, buffer the building climatically. With these measures in place, the rooftop photovoltaic system covers the heat-pump HVAC system demands and hot water and other lighting and electrical needs throughout the year.
Measure 7: Design for Well-Being
Indoor air quality was a priority. The design avoided materials containing red-list chemicals in favor of healthy indoor finishes such as natural rubber flooring, natural wood-fiber ceiling panels, and low-VOC paints. In addition, natural ventilation of the interiors was achieved by positioning operable windows on two elevations and exhausting stale air out through upper-level motorized clerestory windows assisted by ceiling paddle fans. The incorporation of ample operable windows also evenly illuminated the interiors reducing eye strain and the dependency on lighting in the classrooms, student commons, and office spaces.
Measure 8: Design for Resources
The building structure primarily employs renewable wood framing, introducing fire resistance challenges. The project sits within a Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) zone; charred tree stumps from the 1991 Oakland Hills Faire dote the site. To complement the campus’s cedar shingle character, while achieving WUI fire resistance standards, the buildings are clad with a single layer of a WUI-approved wood cladding product with an integral plywood substrate eliminating the need for exterior gypsum board or similar redundant backers. The lower level is clad with vertically oriented custom concrete siding specifically made by a local fabricator and tested for the project.
Measure 9: Design for Change
The design incorporates a variety of scaled programmed garden spaces and a renovated central courtyard for school assemblies and events. These open-air spaces facilitate experiential outdoor learning and help lower the risk of contagions. When skies are filled with smoke pollutants, interior spaces are controlled, healthy environments with a VRF heat pump mechanical system that provides low-energy warm and cold conditioned air. This mechanical strategy allows the interiors to close when ambient air quality degrades, or temperatures exceed comfort levels.
Measure 10: Design for Discovery
The project delivery included mechanical and electrical commissioning at substantial completion. Administrators and facility personnel were instructed on how to use and efficiently maintain the systems, with follow-up exchanges scheduled to bridge the divide between design intent and actual performance. Training users to synchronize with the mechanical VRF heat pump system’s ability to deliver energy-efficient but slower response times as the spaces changed from natural ventilation mode to mechanical conditioning proved challenging but was largely overcome by additional communications, signage, and training. The design team continues to support the school with ongoing master planning, operational guidance, and classroom presentations.
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