Inglewood, California


Above the door to every classroom at 'nimo Leadership Charter High School, in Inglewood, California, a glowing green sign reads: The Road to College Starts Here. Though the student population is mostly low-income, and the school occupies a tough site'near the 105 Freeway and the approach to Los Angeles International Airport'this is a place of soaring aspirations.

Overcoming obstacles to academic achievement and real-world success, this public school's core values have shaped everything from its personalized teaching approaches to the architecture. Here, the V-shaped new building encourages a sense of community, while also connecting with its neighbors. 'In low-income areas, like this Latino neighborhood, people just hope for spaces that function, but I think it's unfair for them not to get beautiful places for learning,' says Marco Petruzzi, CEO of Green Dot Public Schools, the nonprofit that founded and operates the school. His organization began in 1999 with a mission to transform public education in Greater Los Angeles, whose Unified School District (LAUSD) has seen staggering high school drop-out rates. In place of dysfunctional academic warehouses, Green Dot proposed small charter schools, 'where everyone knows your name,' says Petruzzi. Today, the organization's 19 schools across the county'some start-ups and others 'turn-arounds' of existing troubled institutions'typically cap enrollment between 500 and 650 students each, with relatively small classes, a pervasive college-oriented culture, and emphasis on quantifiable, standardized test data. One essential factor is direct engagement of students' families and school administration in the learning process.

Yet when Petruzzi, a self-described architecture buff, approached various firms to design the 28-classroom 'nimo Leadership school, he got disheartening responses. Given the tight (30,300-square-foot) site, budgetary restrictions, and low-rise residential neighbors, 'everyone said we could just do a 'shoebox' for classrooms, with a stair at either end. Period,' he recalls. 'They told us to forget about casual 'hangout' spaces, or even a lunch area.'

But Los Angeles'based Brooks + Scarpa Architects (BSA) had a different idea'and it dovetailed with Petruzzi's ambitions to reverse the downward spiral of a rough neighborhood while providing a model of energy efficiency.

Certified by CA-CHPS (the environmentally focused California Collaborative for High Performance Schools), the 50,165-square-foot building BSA realized opens up the site at its core. Though the three-story structure is built out to the edges of its urban corner site, it ushers light and air into its center with a funnel-like courtyard, oriented to optimize passive shading and draw through-breezes. This outdoor room doubles as the lunch area, assembly hall, and prime mingling zone. Concrete stadium steps at one end serve as an amphitheater or perches for gatherings. 'We wanted the five minutes between classes to be an important part of the experience,' says BSA principal Larry Scarpa. 'We actually created more stairways than required, to increase meet-up opportunities.' Within this building'clad in white-pigmented cement plaster'wide open-air corridors embrace the temperate climate.

BSA sheathed the long south-facing front facade in nearly 500 PV panels. The feature's $688,000 price tag may seem like a big chunk of the building's $15.2 million cost. But Petruzzi says favorable financing made the array feasible and beneficial'in both the short- and long-term. As he explains, California Proposition 55, the Kindergarten'University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2004, covered half the project costs and gave Green Dot a long-term, low-interest loan for the remainder. With the PVs meeting 75 percent of the school's energy needs, Scarpa estimates an annual savings of $70,000. So, payback for the apparatus is modest and gradual, while the impact on operating costs is substantial.

'nimo Leadership's other material components are humble: concrete floors, white-pigmented cement-plaster outer walls, exposed ductwork in classrooms, and white-painted metal railings and mesh along the staircases and the broad, single-loaded corridors. The building's tight V-plan'like a solid block with a jagged, converging chasm of circulation cut through it'invites views and social interaction across the central open space.

The building opened in 2012, and, so far, the results are encouraging. The school (begun in temporary quarters in 2000) currently boasts college admissions for 98 percent of its graduating class, with many the first in their families to achieve higher education. In 2013, Newsweek ranked it among the nation's 2,000 most effective public schools for producing college-ready graduates'and one of the country's 'Top 25 Transformative High Schools' (or 'game-changers' for youth below the federal poverty line).

But, like any ambitious undertaking, it has met bumps in the road. The gym BSA designed for a separate site nearby is not yet under construction. (The school has improvised by leasing local parks, playing fields, and gyms, and has already succeeded in winning some state championships.)

Among the features value-engineered out was courtyard landscaping. And the public art intended for the building's base'a mural to be painted with student participation'has not yet taken form. For the grand opening and photos shown here, BSA temporarily installed a mural of its own design. Without it, the entry area is currently a bit drab. But the litmus test: students seem to be thriving. On a recent visit, a small group of them worked intently after hours with a teacher in a chemistry lab. And after school lets out, they can be spotted throughout the neighborhood (most live within walking distance) proudly sporting their 'nimo Leadership sweatshirts.

'Larry Scarpa captured the essence of what we wanted,' says Petruzzi, 'a sense of openness and connection with the surrounding community, even on such a compact site. When everyone else said, 'Forget it,' we didn't give up.'


Client: Green Dot Public Schools

Owner: Green Dot Public Schools

Brooks + Scarpa Architects, Inc.
4611 W. Slauson Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90043

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA - Principal- in-Charge. Angela Brooks, AIA, Mark Buckland, Ching Luk, Project Architect, Brad Buter, Silke Clemens, Omar Bárcena, Emily Hodgdon, RA LEED AP, Gwynne Pugh, Sri Sumantri - Project Design Team.

Architect of record: same

Structural: Thornton Tomasetti

Civil: Barbara L. Hall, P.E., Inc.


Landscape: Landscape Scenarios

Acoustical: Newson Brown

Construction Manager: Telacu

John Edward Linden
Tara Wujcik


50,164 square feet

Total construction cost:

$15.3 million

Completion date:

June 2012



Structural system
Type II Steel frame and concrete filled metal decking. Concrete uses coal fly ash.

Metal: Natural oxidized cold rolled recycled steel

Concrete: Type ll Portland Cement with 25% flyash, LM Scofield Lithochrome stain

Exterior cladding
Portland Cement Exterior Cement Plaster with integral color finish

Masonry: Generic Concrete Masonry Unit – 8” reinforced

Metal Panels: IC72 18-gauge Corrugated metal panel

Metal/glass curtain wall: US Aluminum

Moisture barrier: #15 Building Paper

Curtain wall: US Alum.

Built-up roofing: 4-ply Modified bitumen membrane cool roof by CertainTeed

Metal frame: US Aluminum Corporation

Glass: Solarban 80 by PPG

Skylights: Bristolite, Solatube International, Inc

Entrances: Carrier, Timely, US Alum.

Metal doors: Carrier

Locksets:  McKinney, Sargent

Closers: McKinney, Sargent

Exit devices: McKinney, Sargent

Pulls: McKinney, Sargent

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: USG – Halycon Climaplus

Suspension grid: USG – Donn Suspension System

Exterior Ceiling: USG PARALINE® Linear Metal Ceiling System

Demountable partitions: Operable partition by Modernfold

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: ISEC Inc.

Paints: Non-toxic zero VOC Paints by AFM Safecoat

Wall coverings: tackboards by Claridge. Acoustic panels by LBI Boyd

Solid surfacing: ISEC Inc., Omnideck by Bradley

Floor and wall tile: Ecotile by Walker Zanger in bathroom

Carpet:  HllyTex, Inc.

Office furniture: ICES Inc.

Reception furniture: Custom Millworks

Interior ambient lighting: Prudential Lighting

Downlights: Capri, Halo

Exterior: Halo

Elevators/Escalators: Mitsubishi

Low flow dual flush toilets and faucets with aerators and waterless urinals:
American Standard, Bobrick, Chicago Faucets, Zurn

Photovoltaic system: California Solar Company – Sunpower SER-235P

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Recycled-Content, Formaldehyde-Free Insulation Batts by Johns Manville
Recycled-Content Gypsum Board
No VOC paints by AFM Safecoat

Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
Storm water retention tank by Darco Inc.