Proj Overview

Project Overview

Christopher High School, a new two-story, 1,800 student facility in Gilroy, California, is laid out in a broad sweeping curve similar to the infield on a baseball diamond. The design’s fan-shaped layout, with aquatic center/gymnasium complex at one end and a still-to-be-built performance arts theater at the other end, allows for spacious outdoor learning environments around a central amphitheater-style quadrangle, which serves as the social hub of the campus.
A monumental open-air, entry canopy directs students into the central outdoor area. The canopy is supported by six massive pillars that reinforce the school’s belief in the “six pillars of character.” The school’s two-story plan maximizes open space for on-site field sports and sweeping views of the nearby foothills.
The City of Gilroy, once known as the “Garlic Capital of the World,” now targets technological growth by aligning with nearby Silicon Valley. The concept and sophisticated design of the new school seeks to balance the agrarian past with a high tech future. Decorative garlic bulbs and paw prints (the school’s team is the “Cougars”) are sculpted into the entry lintels.
Phase I of the project, which opened in 2009, accommodated 900 students, consisted of a two-story building with 36 classrooms, library, computer lab, kitchen, cafeteria and administrative offices. Phase II, allowing for another 900 students and completed in 2012, includes additional classrooms, an aquatics center that features an activity pool and a 13-lane competition pool, gymnasium, locker room, and a 248-car parking lot.
The project’s sports complex includes a synthetic-turf track and field and includes bleachers, an electronic scoreboard, stadium lights, concession stands and a press box. An arts wing contains digital and media arts, performing arts, ceramic studio, wood and metal shops.
Sustainable design features include extensive use of daylighting with large windows and light shelves, use of natural ventilation, energy-efficient mechanical systems, and drought-resistant landscaping. Solar panels on the roof and on sunshades in the outdoor quad produce 30% of the school’s power needs. Precast concrete components use partially recycled rebar reinforcement, were fabricated locally and 93.5% of construction waste was recycled.

Precast Solution

Precast concrete cladding was a key element in the school design. In total, the new school utilized 885 architectural precast panels (140,477 ft2) and 22 GFRC precast components (2,700 ft2). Architectural precast panels were used in Phase I; architectural precast and GFRC for colonnade entrances and column covers were used in Phase II. The precast panels vary in size from 5 ft by 20 ft and 10 ft by 30 ft.
Designed to look like natural stone, the precast panels, simulate the Classic Revival style of 1912 Gilroy and convey a collegiate and timeless architecture.
The architectural precast panels were manufactured using a simulated stone form liner with post applied stain. Multiple mix design colors were used in each panel. Other components were given a light and medium sandblast finish.
A key factor in the selection of precast cladding for the new school was the durability of precast concrete. An extensive life cycle cost analysis by BCA Architects evaluated various "skin" systems. The decision was made to utilize an integral color precast concrete panel system based on a number of factors:
* Durability. With an institutional environment such as a high school, it is critically important to design an exterior skin system that can withstand the test of time that students impose on the structure including the ability to quickly and easily remove graffiti. To date, there have been no incidents of graffiti.
* Aesthetics. The design possibilities of precast allowed the architects to create an environment that challenged the students to excel. Student Academic Performance Index (API) scores, in fact, have increased significantly.
* Payback. Unlike precast, other finishes, including stucco, require extensive maintenance, notes Paul Bunton, AIA, president of BCA Architects. "Although the upfront cost of precast concrete panels was higher than other finishes," Bunton says, "precast concrete will save the District millions of dollars over the life of the facility by significantly reducing their deferred maintenance costs."


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Project Team


BCA Architects


Thornton Tomasetti

Contractor (Phase I)

Gilbane Building Company

Contractor (Phase II)

Swinerton Builders


Gilroy Unified School District


Willis Construction, Inc.

Key Project Attributes

  • Multiple mix design colors in one panel
  • Simulated Stone form liner with post applied stain
  • Precast durability
  • Aesthetic possibilities of precast

Project/Precast Scope

  • Architectural precast and GFRC
  • 140,477 square feet of precast; 885 panels
  • 2,700 square feet of GFRC, 22 panels
  • 1,800 student capacity
  • Aquatic center