Mariano Castro Elementary School Replacement Campus

Project Description

Previously comprised of dozens of aging portables, two schools occupied the 1960’s campus originally only designed for one. As both schools intended to share some new facilities, the planning process required Programming for both the Mariano Castro Elementary School and the site’s other user, Gabriela Mistral, a Spanish-English dual immersion elementary school. Mistral occupied the site-built buildings – which were modernized in a future phase by the architecture firm – and Castro occupied the portables buildings. The design team held individual and combined school planning meetings, ensuring individual and shared campus needs were met. With active parent involvement, the design team provided Spanish language interpreters and dual language printed materials.

Learning Environment:

Maintaining individual school identities, sharing facilities, allowing for growth, and providing improved teaching environments were of paramount concern to the Castro teachers and parents.

The importance to remain as two distinct schools fundamentally impacted campus design and led to independent campus entries with student drop-off, as well as separate administration buildings for each school located on opposite sides of the site. The vision for the two schools allowed both site users to access the reconfigured and expanded outdoor play areas, as well as newly constructed library and multi-purpose buildings.

To allow additional teaching spaces and to use the limited acreage effectively, new classrooms at Castro were composed of mostly two-story construction featuring large windows and high ceilings to create better views and daylighting.


New classrooms provide state-of-the-art educational environments that support the way teachers work, including infused technology, connections between classrooms and opportunities for outdoor learning. Large window areas provide a greater sense of community, improved campus supervision, and a desirable quality of space. The numerous courtyards between buildings provide circulation and easily observed places for student gathering and outdoor learning.

The contemporary design provides a sense of a new and modern campus – a significant improvement from the previous dour and portable-riddled school.

Community Environment:

The enlarged Mariano Castro Elementary School addressed student growth in the neighborhood by expanding the total site capacity. As desired by parents, large, smooth, plaster walls of the new two-story classroom buildings face the common playground which can be used for murals that are reflective of the rich cultures of the Castro School community.

Design Challenge

The Mariano Castro Elementary School is a linguistically and culturally vibrant campus, with students and parents of diverse backgrounds. The school is an important part of the community fabric, where parents and neighbors interact and participate in school and non-school activities. Some of the school’s parents and neighbors attended Castro Elementary in their youth. The school’s undersized and drab facilities, coupled with the fact that they share a crowded campus with the valued Spanish-English Dual Immersion school, made restoration of the entire site a community and school district priority. The facility needs were so great that the community overwhelmingly passed a school construction bond to enhance all their schools, and particularly the replacement campus for Castro. Providing equitable facilities for this majority Latinx community was of paramount importance to school and community leaders. For the school community, an inclusive and collaborative design process was nearly as important as the facility itself. Parents, suspicious of past administration injudiciousness and insensitivity to community culture, asserted participation in the new school design. Working with school, parents and community leaders, the architects lead numerous programming and design listening sessions – in both English and Spanish. This work included bilingual surveys and smaller sessions to encourage parent participation. The design team went to great lengths to hear community needs and take feedback on design options. This inclusive and collaborative process resulted in much needed community support that lasted through the entire design and construction process. The new campus provides pristine and well supervised playgrounds, fields, and climbing structures. As an integral community facility, these play spaces are now afterhours community gathering areas for parents to meet and socialize while their children play. The new school provides a strong sense of entry for students and community members. Within the school, clusters of classrooms are arranged around courtyards, creating a sense of community among teachers and students, while also providing places for outdoor learning. The completed school now provides a place of community pride and convening.

Physical Context

As a collection of portables on an aging campus, the need for a replacement campus was of paramount importance to teachers, students and parents. The new campus provides much needed 21st century learning environments in classrooms and support spaces. Abundant daylighting and classroom transparency reduce dependence on artificial lighting and creates a sense of community. Affording environmental and community visual connections, large classroom windows from multiple orientations provide links to the school and surrounding environment, including long views to distant hills and, from upper levels, the San Francisco Bay. Five classroom buildings are arranged around supervised courtyards that provide a sense of entry and community for each classroom cluster. The courtyards also provide outdoor learning areas and places of student gathering before and after classes. The vision for the two schools allowed both to use the reconfigured and expanded outdoor play areas, as well as the newly constructed library and multiuse room. Understanding it was vital to staff at both schools, the architects maintained separate senses of entry and identity on the east and west sides of the campus, while still accommodating the shared facilities. It was vital to both programs to remain as two distinct schools, which fundamentally impacted campus design and the creation of two independent campus entries with student drop-off and parking, as well as separate administration buildings for each school located on opposite sides of the site.