White Hill Middle School, Master Plan and Design

White Hill Middle School is located on 22 acres at the northern edge of Marin County’s Town of Fairfax and surrounded by hills, open space, and residential neighborhoods. The school’s mission is to cultivate the whole child by fostering academic excellence, cultural richness, and social, emotional and physical development. Originally built in 1969 and facing increases in student enrollment, White Hill Middle School required more flexible, safe, sustainable, accessible and technology-enabled facilities. In response, the Ross Valley School District (RVSD) passed a $41 million bond in 2010; we have developed a comprehensive master plan which will be implemented in two phases.

The District’s goal to create an enhanced sense of connectivity, both within the campus and to its picturesque surroundings, drove building configuration and placement. The Small Learning Community teaching model, recently adopted by RVSD, inspired the notion of separate “houses,” or intimate learning spaces serving 7th and 8th graders. The District also wanted to make evident the systems that support the school, so that the buildings and landscapes themselves could double as teaching tools.

The first phase of the project, completed in 2014, includes the two new classroom buildings or “houses” for the 7th and 8th graders, a modernized 6th grade wing, and enhanced art classrooms. The new classroom buildings are organized around a central outdoor gathering space that extends the existing entrance courtyard to the north. “Teaching patios” support outdoor learning and make conservation a part of the everyday experience. These new outdoor spaces accommodate a variety of activities that range from small social gathering to large school assembly, reducing the amount of building square footage and lowering the total cost of the project by 15%.

Designed to support flexibility, collaboration, and a connection to the outdoors, the classrooms are divided by moveable, acoustically sound walls that have a magnetic and writable surface. When these walls are collapsed, two classrooms can mesh within one large teaching environment. Each “house” has an open flex classroom that can be used for break-out sessions or small group learning. Each flex classroom also has moveable walls that allow the flex rooms to combine with adjacent classrooms, like the science lab, for more interactive curriculum. Currently these flex classrooms are being used for robotics and art collaboration.

The new facilities are designed and organized on the site to take advantage of the specific site attributes — wind and light, sweeping views to the hills and across the valley, and the campus’ location at the base of a watershed. The classroom environments are designed to be naturally day-lit and naturally ventilated, with radiant heating and cooling in the floors that provide comfortable conditioning with very low energy. The radiant systems also support the flexible classroom designs, accommodating various sized learning communities and classroom shapes. The controls for the radiant heating and cooling are made visible to provide a teaching opportunity for the students.

These energy efficient systems, coupled with good lighting, resulted in an EUI of 28 and allow for the roof mounted photovoltaic panels to produce most of the energy required for each building, with one of the buildings achieving Net Zero. Designed and built per Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) and LEED for Schools guidelines, the indoor environmental quality requirements guided every aspect of the design, from material selection to acoustics. With its location at the base of a watershed, the campus previously experienced annual flood damage. Viewing the campus’ direct access to water as an opportunity, we embraced stormwater management with bioswales, pervious concrete paving and flowthrough planters that weave between the classroom buildings and throughout the site. This strategy allows the site itself to serve an educational role, using water as a major theme.

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