Design Tech High School in Redwood City Breaks Barriers with Student-Involved Design

Redwood City, Calif. Design Tech High School, Silicon Valley, Belmont Slough, Oracle Conference Center, XL Construction, DES Architects + Engineers, Oracle Education Foundation, San Francisco Bay, Oracle’s Fitness Center, San Mateo County

By Meghan Hall

Oracle made headlines in 2016 when it announced it would be adding a high school to its main campus in Redwood City, Calif. Design Tech High School (d.tech) officially opened the doors to its new facility to 550 students in January 2018, becoming the first public charter school of its kind to operate on a major Silicon Valley technology campus. With such a new concept in mind for the charter school’s first permanent home, students, school officials and parents were all heavily involved in the planning and development of the two-story, 64,000 square-foot building situated in between the Belmont Slough and the Oracle Conference Center.

“Design Tech High School at Oracle is an important addition to the community for many reasons,” explained Erin Allred, the senior project manager for XL Construction, who was in charge of refining the building’s design during the construction process. “The project-based learning and design thinking approach of the school prepares students for real-world jobs and problem solving, and it provides San Mateo, Redwood City and Foster City with a forward-thinking charter high school for high-achieving students.”

Design Tech High School’s mantra of project-based learning became a driving factor in the school’s design and construction. According to Dawn Jedkins, associate principal at DES Architects + Engineers, their firm was also selected on the basis of student input.

“They wanted to see if we had synergy,” said Jenkins of the process used to select the design and architecture firms leading the development. Milpitas-based XL Construction was also chosen for its ability to interact well with students, parents and educators.

The students’ input was the foundation for the school’s design

The Oracle Education Foundation, XL Construction and DES Architects + Engineers worked diligently to get student feedback at every step of the process. Design Tech High School students took part in workshops that allowed architects and designers to understand the school’s academic programs. Later on in the process, visioning workshops and focus groups made up of students, teachers and parents focused on more specific subjects like day-to-day space usage, sustainability and specific requests.

“The students’ input was the foundation for the school’s design,” explained Jenkins. “A key concept of the final space plan—the idea of learning neighborhoods—was developed during these visioning sessions.”

Each “neighborhood” in Design Tech High school has four interconnected classrooms with movable partitions, allowing for the creation of break-out spaces where students could work in groups or individually. The break-out spaces are designed to wrap around the classrooms and have views of the San Francisco Bay thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows. Bean bags and high-top work tables are spread out throughout the classrooms, as well.

Flexibility and neutral spaces were two of the school’s top requests. “The students and faculty knew what they wanted now but weren’t sure how that would evolve in their new space, so as much flexibility was built in as possible,” said Allred.

To meet those requests, XL Construction and DES Architects + Engineers designed the interior of the school to have plenty of open, neutral-colored wall space and exposed ceilings.

“We were also excited to see what happened after the students moved in—they immediately started making it their own,” added Allred. “After just a few days, it no longer looked like a blank slate but a thriving, bustling high school full of vibrancy and life.”

Sustainability was also top priority for students and faculty, and the new school shares facilities with both the conference center and Oracle’s Fitness Center in order to reduce the project’s overall footprint. Construction plans for the project also included restoring roughly 1,000 feet of coastline, strengthening the nearby levee and adding a public walking path, which now provides two acres of public access.

While Design Tech High School’s new building is currently seeking LEED Gold Certification, the project did win the Green Building Award at Sustainable San Mateo County’s 2018 Sustainability Awards. The event strives to make the community more sustainable and recognizes those who have excelled in completing environmentally-conscious projects.

“By being a sustainable, high-functioning building, it requires less natural resources,” said Allred. “It demonstrates how technology can help improve the functionality of the building through better air quality, using less water and energy and reducing our overall impact on the earth.”

Oracle declined to comment for this story.