Pepper Drive School
New Administration and
Learning Resource Center Building

Pepper Drive is a K-8 school.  It is the last school on the Santee School District’s (SSD) comprehensive master plan.  The timing of the improvements for this campus, coincided with the recession, and the District’s assessed home values plummeted and funding the projects on this campus were severely depleted.  Creating a beautiful, functional facility for the least dollars possible, became one of the critical items to be accomplished during the planning process.  SSD created a partnership with Grossmont Union High School District (GUHSD) to create a joint use facility. The building functions as an administration and library learning resource center (LRC) for SSD and a teacher training facility for GUHSD.  In order to facilitate both end users, a planning committee was formed.  Members included district staff, teachers, administrators and our planning staff.  During our planning sessions, it was imperative to have the divergent end users understand the diverse goals of the buildings.  Versatile spaces with the ability to transition quickly from one type of function to another was at the top of the committee’s list of accomplishments.  At each meeting comprehensive floor plans, spatial relationships, and exterior/interior renderings assisted the user groups in decision making to ensure each space fit its user like a glove.  The project was submitted to CDE and OPSC for joint use funding and was placed on the unfunded list.  During our 3 year wait, we worked closely with the planning team, to value engineer the project to ensure the final amount did not exceed $3,000,000, which was the District’s budget.

Pepper Drive’s 2-story junior high school building, which was a site adapt, was constructed prior to the construction of this project.  The location of the junior high left the existing campus disjointed.  The LRC provides the connection between the junior high and the elementary school with soft divides that ensures safety and separation between the upper and lower grades, without the addition of fences and obvious obstructions.  There are two outdoor learning courtyards that are easily supervised and serve as the social and educational center between the grades.  The interior spaces serve as collaboration spaces for all of the grades.  The library space serves as a library as well as a technology space.  The environment is fun and welcoming.  The technology classroom, which is called the “Teen Zone”, which is just off the main book area is accessed both through the library space as well as the outside is a space dedicated just for the junior high during the day.  Keeping with the theme of passive security, the Teen Zone is easily monitored from the library. It is a place for students to collaborate and socialize as a “place of their own”.  As budget allows in the future, soft seating will be utilized to create a “café” feeling, to encourage positive social interaction as well as idea sharing.

To fully comprehend the impact of the new facility, understanding the original facility, is key. The administration building was set back and difficult to access.  The library was housed in the MPR, which rendered the MPR function useless. The new building resolves these issues.  The building location pulls it closer to the student drop-off, giving visitors, staff and students clear direction and discernable campus connections.  Prior to the construction of the LRC, a 2-story junior high building was constructed, which was a site adapt and was constructed on five other campuses.  The LRC bridges the gap between the low profile mid-century architectural style of the existing campus and the new contemporary style of the junior high.  The usage of complimentary elements, including an entry tower, sun shades, are reflective of the contemporary style, while a carefully integrated sloped roof tie with the sloped roofs of the existing buildings.  Thin metal columns bring a big visual impact and are directly relatable to the original campus.

The school was lacking a gathering space, the construction of the library allowed the MPR to return to its original function.  The school is hosting community and full student events for the first time in many years.  The library spaces, including the lower-grade reading nook, several learning spaces and the Teen Zone draws students and provides a fun learning environment that has united a disjointed school.  One of the learning elements that unites the school community, for both teachers and students are the white-board paint on the columns.  They are labeled “poll poles”.  Students and staff pose questions and thoughts that inspire students to ponder and express their own thoughts and opinions.

Creating multi-modal learning environments was a critical design principal.  Most spaces have high ceilings, with fun details, and an abundance of natural lighting. The overall space is bright and airy and feels open and comfortable.  There are several private locations, such as the reading nook with lower ceilings, for students to relax and read.  There are several larger gathering spaces with interactive white boards, and white-board walls that encourage collaboration and creation.  Creating an open creative space for the administration staff was also a critical design principal.  The administration area has a visual connection to all parts of the campus, including the entry, the middle school and its learning courtyard, as well as the library and the elementary learning courtyard.  This was accomplished by working with the natural angle of the site, parking lot, junior high, and the existing campus. Large windows make the small space seem significantly larger.  A large workroom was also provided, which is something the staff was previously lacking.  The space doubles as storage for teacher training materials as well as over-flow library functional space.

During planning and design, high performance elements includes daylighting and occupancy sensors, high efficiency lighting, low-e glass, and low-voc materials with high recycled content.  Exterior high performance elements include permeable pavers, low water landscaping, and solar powered exterior lighting.  It was designed to CHPS (non-verified) and is approximately 9% greater than Title 24.

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