Ratcliff Architecture News

Back to School Gold in Green Classrooms: RATCLIFF Designs New Energy-Efficient Windrush School Building to Take Advantage of Its Environment and Achieve a LEED® Gold Rating - August 20, 2008

On September 2, Windrush School students will return to school and receive hands-on environmental science lessons—indoors. These lucky El Cerrito elementary and middle school students will be learning to make the most of their innovative new library and classrooms, some of the greenest learning spaces in the Bay Area. The building is expected to achieve a “Gold” rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)® program, a first for the City of El Cerrito. 


Taking advantage of the school’s bayside location, RATCLIFF (www.ratcliffarch.com) designed the sustainable classroom addition for Windrush School (www.windrush.org) to include features like a green roof, skylights, photovoltaic panels, insulation made of recycled denim, and operable windows. The total annual energy savings will be about $16,000 – the new Windrush building’s annual energy bill will be about $500 whereas an average comparably-sized structure has an energy bill of $16,570.  Ultimately, the building is 96 percent more energy-efficient than a comparable school building, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star system. 

“This new classroom wing makes living green a tangible lesson for our children,” says Ilana Kaufman, the Windrush Head of School. “We feel a responsibility to our families, our faculty, and our community to set an example of how classrooms should be designed. It’s a dynamic symbol of our higher responsibility to the planet. This building will sustain our students and inspire them to be environmental stewards.”

The new wing will add seven modern and comfortable classrooms and an expanded library to Windrush School. RATCLIFF integrated sustainable features into all aspects of the design, such as:


  • A visually-appealing building roof saves energy by combining photovoltaic panels, green planters, and skylights. Skylights decrease electric lighting demand for classrooms.
  • Naturally ventilated and cooled classrooms with operable windows and skylights allow breezes from the San Francisco Bay to eliminate need for mechanical air conditioners.
  • Radiant floor heating is 60-70 percent more energy-efficient than traditional forced air systems.
  • An innovative concrete structure utilizes insulated concrete forms to create a highly insulated and mold-resistant building envelope.
  • Concrete mix replaces 50-60 percent of the standard Portland cement with recycled fly ash and slag saves a significant amount of energy from the cement manufacturing process. 
  • Bioretention planters reduce storm water runoff, while cleansing and treating remaining storm water before it enters the City system. 
  • Efficient plumbing fixtures save about 140,000 gallons of water annually. 
  • Sustainable interior finishes such as low volatile organic compound (VOC) emitting paint, countertops, and ceiling tiles; a carpeting system which requires no glue in the installation process; and durable window roller shades made of the first “cradle to cradle” shade cloth lessen environmental impacts. 
  • New bicycle racks encourage alternative transportation and fuel-efficient vehicles have priority parking.
  • Landscaping selected according to Stopwaste.org’s “Bay Friendly Landscaping” principles of drought- tolerant plant varieties attract a variety of local bird and insect species and require little irrigation.

The Windrush School construction project diverted 90 percent of construction waste and will avoid 20 tons of carbon emissions annually. Additional projects included the renovation of an existing gymnasium to improve circulation and access to natural light; site circulation and wheelchair accessibility improvements throughout the campus; and a new outdoor plaza, which used boulders from the construction site as a retaining wall. RATCLIFF completed a facilities master plan for Windrush School in 2002 to coincide with the development of the school’s strategic plan. 

“RATCLIFF is pleased to support Windrush School’s commitment to the environment and provide a comprehensive, sustainable design for this classroom building,” Brian Feagans, NCARB, LEED® AP, RATCLIFF’s project designer. “This project serves as a catalyst for green schools for this generation of students.”

The project team included West Coast Contractors, Timmons Design Engineers, Ingraham DeJesse, Moran Engineering, O’Mahoney & Myer, Conco Cement, MIG, Davis Energy Group, and Bonnie Whitler, Windrush School’s Director of Finance and Operations, as Project Manager.