Redding School of Arts, Part 2: Kid-size Doors, a Slide Indoors

Think back to your formative years – can you imagine your elementary school setting the standards for energy efficient schools throughout the nation?

Future graduates of the new Redding School of the Arts will be able to say so.

“When RSA comes to the project, it’s a real benefit. Redding School of the Arts has a very interesting, and in some ways unique and creative program, and we wanted to look at something that would match that creativity,” said James Theimer, principal architect at Trilogy Architecture, during a media event held Thursday morning at the McConnell Foundation.


The new campus aims to be platinum-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which, as the title suggests, is no easy feat. Theimer, a LEED accredited professional specializing in urban design, and who oversees the project, called on a variety of components used in achieving the team’s goal.

“We wanted lots and lots of natural light,” he said, mentioning how each classroom faces north to best utilize natural light. “Some of these concepts have been around for hundreds of years, but seem to have disappeared with the advent of air conditioning.”

Open-air hallways will utilize a fine mist system to moderate temperatures outside the classroom and mitigate extreme temperature changes from classrooms to outdoors. Recreational walls for wall ball and the like will be available to paint. Old blue jeans were used to insulate the walls.

While a certification is one goal of the project, Theimer’s vision extends well beyond. He wants to redefine how students and teachers interact within their physical environment by taking a non-traditional approach to the design and integrating “indoors with outdoors.”

There will be an orchard, garden and chicken coop to teach students about sustainability. In preserving the immediate environment, the parking lot has been built largely around already existing trees, with the addition of new greenery for an effective shade canopy.


The team planned a 175,000-gallon rainwater reservoir to collect rainwater and provide 100 percent of the irrigation needs (excluding the playing field). The goal is to be the most water-efficient school in the nation, and aims to reduce water consumption by 50 percent compared to traditional schools. “It’s not an easy task in an area like Redding,” Theimer said.

Traditional solar panels, the latest generation and most efficient, will be used along with “thin film” technology to produce a great amount of the school’s own power. Redding Electric Utility helped pick up the cost of a geothermal heat pump to regulate classroom temperatures throughout the year.

During the project, the team has recycled 103 tons, or 93 percent, of waste. One example is drywall, often the largest component of waste in construction, which will be ground up and used as fertilizer.

The school’s design features a partially covered amphitheatre instead of an auditorium. Instead of a large gymnasium, there are large rooms to be used for exercise and dance. Additionally, three outdoor classrooms meet with the hallway and serve as “learning streets.”


“I think green and creative are the same thing. We wanted a little creativity. We wanted a little fun,” Theimer said. To this end, there will be an indoor slide, small doors for children’s classrooms (large doors, too), and windows that extend to the floor. That vision to the outside affords small children a different perspective, Theimer said.

LEED certification is awarded on a 100-point scale in the areas of: site sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality, with bonus points available for innovation in design and regional priority.

Speaking to some of the challenges with the project, Theimer said, “The LEED certification’s a big deal. The aggressive time frame is hard, because you can’t say to a school, ‘Hey, can you open in October instead of August,’ right?”

He further mentioned the application process, which started about a year ago, for certification. “It’s not user-friendly,” Theimer said. There were numerous problems filling out the online applications (none of the forms worked). “We were their guinea pigs,” Theimer said.

Theimer provided some LEED stats. There were roughly 100,000 buildings constructed in 2008. Of those, 10,000 registered for LEED certification. Of those, 1,400 were certified. Of those, only seven achieved a net-zero rating, and Theimer envisions the new campus to be among the net-zero elite.

Currently, there are 10 platinum schools in the nation, but some are as small as one classroom. Trilogy, along with the help of Kibler and Kibler Architecture and Engineering, designed the building on land owned by McConnell. Under Trilogy’s lead, the new RSA campus will be the nation’s largest (or nearly largest) LEED platinum-certified school.

Because the project is still underway, and some of the bidding costs have yet to be finalized, total costs of the RSA project thus far cannot be calculated. However, the McConnell Foundation estimates the cost of the project to be in the neighborhood of $25 million – a sizable portion of which was used for infrastructure and site work prior to the construction of the new building.

McConnell’s president and CEO, Lee Salter, called the RSA campus a “signature project” and likened its potential influence to the Sundial Bridge.

“I’m sure it will draw lots of people just to see, and hopefully other schools and school districts will be able to take (ideas about its) elements back and incorporate parts and pieces of new construction,” Salter said.

He further mentioned that Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., the nation’s first LEED platinum-certified school, has a full-time staff member to offer tours of its campus.

The Trilogy-McConnell partnership is nothing new. Trilogy designed the McConnell Arboretum and its maintenance facility. Trilogy’s other local works include the Cascade Theatre, the Carnegie Stage in Library Park and the Turtle Bay Administration building and amphitheatre.

A charter school sponsored by the Gateway Unified School District, Redding School of the Arts was afforded the option of choosing a local architect to oversee the project, whereas other public schools must go through California’s designated office.


Recently Trilogy completed a LEED-certified medical center in Round Mountain (the final certification is still pending) and in addition to the RSA campus, is working on a LEED-certified housing project in downtown Redding – Theimer says it’s the first in the county.

Theimer’s experience has served him well in this venture. “My old professor told me, ‘Any idiot can make a building work.’ That’s simply not true, by the way,” he said, laughing. “This is one of those projects an architect kinda dreams about, where the end is exactly the way you imagined it in the beginning.”

Click here for part one of Joshua Corbelli’s story on Redding School of the Arts.


Joshua Corbelli likes to write stuff on paper, and that makes him a happy little jellybean. Reach him at joshua.corbelli@gmail.com. Or don’t. Your call.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment.

Joshua Corbelli

likes to write stuff on paper, and that makes him a happy little jellybean. Reach him at joshua.corbelli@gmail.com. Or don’t. Your call.

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