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Richland Elementary School front entrance with shade canopy over front steps and concrete sign
Richland Elementary School

Empowering a Diverse Community of Learning Styles and Ages


San Marcos Unified School District

Project Location

San Marcos, CA





With a diverse community of young learners, special needs students, and student-teachers, Richland Elementary School is a learning powerhouse. Our design features flexible learning environments throughout the school that promote communication, creativity, and critical thinking while also encouraging professional development for teachers in training. These highly adaptable spaces allow a natural flow of activities and interaction that support all learning styles. Specialized facilities and collaborative zones are also integrated within the environment to support a variety of dynamic STEAM programs.

The new campus consists of five buildings arranged around play fields, hard courts, a flag court, and a carefully preserved learning garden. It is relocated to higher ground to improve drainage, supervision, and sustained maintenance. By limiting demolition of the existing campus, our solution minimized displacement for students continuing to attend school during construction.

Diversity in Learning

The new Richland Elementary School replaces a 60-year-old school in an established and diverse neighborhood in San Marcos, California. Our extensive seven-part stakeholder engagement process ensures the new facility meets the needs of every learner and further supports the district’s educational vision to challenge, inspire, and prepare students for the future and provide an unparalleled educational experience through an engaging and supportive environment.

Teachers in Training

Developing Emerging Educators

The district combines its enhanced vision for the student experience with a focus on professional development in partnership with the School of Education at California State University, San Marcos. The result is innovative educational spaces that provide opportunities for emerging educators to both observe and interact with students on a campus that supports a diverse community of students and student needs, including preschool, transitional kindergarten, and a broad spectrum of special needs from Preschool through 5th grade.

Flexible learning space with collapsible glass walls, green ceiling with blue accents, dimensional recessed lights
blue and green textured acoustic panels hang in hallway with shelves of books and mixed comfortable seating areas
Learning Villages

Fluid Learning Experiences

Educational spaces are gathered into a learning village concept, organized by grade level, and branded with bright, energetic materials and colors. Flexible collaboration spaces serve as connectors between instructional areas and promote a fluid learning-experience that extends beyond the classroom. Specialized and technology-rich spaces promote student communication, creativity, and critical thinking with varying scales of instruction and collaboration. STEAM spaces throughout the campus connect to the library and outdoor labs to support diverse learning styles and promote a culture of inquiry and innovation.

Central common area recessed from main hallway, shades of blue on wall and flexible seating learning pods, floor to ceiling windows
classroom with wood cabinets and mixed height seating spaces, floor to ceiling window wall opens to playground
Campus Reconstruction

Navigating an Occupied Campus

The design balances an effort to limit interim housing on an occupied campus with a comprehensive approach to solve many of the existing site’s most stubborn problems: site access, student safety, traffic, and campus security. Our solution relocates the front of the campus to a side street and adds traffic control features through stop signs and traffic lights, resulting in improved site safety and ease of access. Taller, two-story classroom buildings are located within the campus interior, while single-story buildings positioned along the edges of campus complement the neighboring residential community.

Aerial view of Richland Elementary School campus site
Aerial view of Richland Elementary School campus site under construction
Sustainable Design Strategies

Exceeding High-Performance Standards

Sustainable design strategies, involving material selection and building orientation, connect interior spaces to the external environment while achieving energy responsible goals. Academic spaces boast acoustically tuned surfaces, optimized natural light, and balanced light levels. The campus incorporates high performance HVAC and lighting systems, enhanced insulation, and maintenance friendly exterior finishes. Passive heating and cooling are achieved through thermal massing and night-time ventilation of polished concrete floors, which store energy during the natural diurnal swings. Reflective insulation, insulated/coated glazing, and solar reflective surfaces provide increased insulation values in the building envelope.

Canopy over building exterior entrance patio illuminated in the evening, large floor to ceiling windows
Elementary school classroom with bright color accents and flexible glass walls students works at tables and stools

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