Leveraging the power of color and community to inspire change
Delivered on an extremely modest budget, the new Caliber Schools ChangeMakers Academy exploits color and subtle design strategies to transform an otherwise unconventional but banal tilt-up concrete structure, while leveraging its creative potential as a community-building agent.
Serving more than 1,000 students on two campuses, Caliber Public Schools is a charter organization whose mission is to shift the experience, expectation and outcomes for students in historically underserved communities and provide them with a rigorous K-12 education so that they can enter a four-year college without remediation. The client asked TEF to develop a new, ground up TK-8 school to support anticipated growth exceeding the capacity of its existing school in Richmond, California.
Located on a four-acre site in Vallejo, the two-story, 65,300-square-foot school was built for $9.4 million, or $144 per square foot -- less than half the cost of a typical commercial building. The restricted budget lead to its economical and restrained design: a compact reinforced concrete tilt-up with interior courtyard. A semi-transparent, two-story “box”— delineating a lobby and second floor conference room—bisects the south elevation, breaking up the massive wall plane, while articulating the school’s main entrance. Strategic transparency along the perimeter of the first level, the playful rhythm of windows on the second floor, and the foregrounding of the structure create building character, rhythm, pattern, scale, and texture. The project’s bright palette met the client’s desire for a colorful and identifiable structure while providing an orienting system of colors that correlate to the location of ground level facilities: grades K-1 are blue, grades 2-3, are green, and the multipurpose room, yellow.
A two-story, light-filled multi-use room and servery anchors the northeast corner of the building. Lower grade “classroom suites”, a shared “indoor/outdoor” common area with a garage door that opens onto the play yard, and upper grade classroom hubs that combine seminar rooms and adjacent break out spaces, meet diverse learning needs and maximize long term flexibility.
The central courtyard defines the “heart” of the campus and provides ample daylighting and natural ventilation to interior classrooms and hallways. It features a grand staircase that doubles as seating to encourage social interaction and support school gatherings. The core space is enlivened by a graphic mural – a community service project by TEF in collaboration with Project Color Corps. Completed over the summer, TEF staff, Project Color Corps volunteers and Caliber Schools families collaborated to actualize the spectacular outcome. The process engaged students over several months and galvanized families on paint day.
Additional program components include reception, parents’ room, administrative offices, teacher workroom, and clinic.
TEF Design team
Douglas Tom, FAIA, Principal
Stephen Simon, Project Manager
Joanna Lo, Project Architect
Joelle Collier, Project Architect
Alex Davies, Project Designer
Architect: TEF Design
Contractor: Hilbers Inc.
Structural: BKG Structural Engineers
Mechanical/Electrical/Plumving: MHC Engineers, Inc.
Civil Engineer: CSW | ST2
Landscape: Stephen Wheeler Landscape Architects
Lighting: Architecture + Light
Mural/Color Consultant: Project Color Corps
1. Southern Hemisphere Shades, Inc.
2. Ashford Formula Concrete Treatment (Curecrete Distribution Inc.)
3. Kompan Playground Solutions, Sports Surface
4. SWFcontract, Solar Shading Systems
5. Armstrong Ultima Ceiling Tiles