A Rekindled Relationship

LPA designers reunite with an independent school they had originally master-planned and designed to prepare the campus for the next generation.

In 1996, LPA master-planned and designed the original campus for Sage Hill School, a private independent high school in the hills of Newport Coast, California. The school, with a design inspired by an Italian hill town, established itself as a premier college prep institution, attracting students from all over Orange County.

Years later the relationship with LPA was rekindled when Sage Hill hired LPA to design an aquatic and tennis facility. The new center maximized the compact site with a 25-yard-by-33-meter competition pool that accommodates both swimming and water polo teams, along with six tennis courts and spectator seating that take full advantage of the natural grade.

The collaboration led to Sage Hill awarding LPA the opportunity to reimagine the 20-year-old campus’ central library space to focus on the evolving campus needs and better reflect the way that students learn and collaborate in the 21st century.

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The original library always played a key role on the campus, which was designed by LPA.

“It was a privilege being invited back on campus,” says LPA CEO Wendy Rogers, who worked on the initial campus design. “It’s always gratifying to be asked to return to further develop a school’s design, when you are already so intimately involved with its creation.”

The two-story library plays an important role on a campus designed to inspire in students “a love of knowledge and the ability to use that knowledge creatively, compassionately and courageously throughout their lives.” Sage Hill’s curriculum was developed around the National Association of Independent Schools’ “Six Cs”: Character, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Cross-Cultural Competency.

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LPA structural engineers played a key role in extending the second floor to create a room that can be used as a boardroom, classroom, testing center or community event space.

The library needed to be updated to support different types of learning and create new, flexible meeting spaces, without altering the library’s connections to its Town Square and its larger role as a social and cultural hub of campus life. In 20 years, the role of the library had changed as more educational tools went digital. The library needed a refresh to make it a more active and collaborative space, recognizing the “Six Cs” and how young adults learn today.

“LPA’s integrated design team came together to inform the design approach for the client,” says LPA Interior Managing Director Chris Lentz. “Key narratives resulted in a more interactive, more collaborative space surrounded by what is probably one of the most spectacular views in Orange County.”

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The LPA-designed aquatic and tennis facility center maximized the compact site with a competition pool, six tennis courts and spectator seating built into the natural grade.

The design process focused on how educators and students would use the spaces. Exploratory design and furniture workshops gave LPA a deeper understanding of specific learning styles and the daily flow of activities. Students were actively involved at every step.

“The student input was very impactful,” Lentz says. “Watching them discuss their habits and how they sit and study provided valuable information for the design.”

LPA’s structural engineering team was also involved, working to fill in the second-floor volume while preserving the structure and meeting the area’s rigid seismic codes. The entire team worked with school administrators to ensure the design was meeting their goals and would have a positive impact on students.

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The renovation shifts emphasis from book storage to collaboration spaces, flexible learning zones and quiet study areas.

“Throughout the process, we could really see the design come to life and envision how students would use the space for years to come,” says Sage Hill Head of School Patricia Merz.

The library’s most dramatic change is the extension of the second floor to add space that can be used as a boardroom, classroom, testing center or community event space — a key goal for administrators. The room maximizes flexibility, allowing it to adapt for future needs.

In the renovated library, the emphasis shifts from the book collection to collaboration spaces and private study rooms. Much of the furniture is on wheels. Glass dividers preserve views and can be used to separate the area into smaller spaces or opened up to make one big space.

The student input was very impactful. Watching them discuss their habits and how they sit and study provided valuable information for the design.

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Students were actively involved in the design, participating in exploratory workshops that allowed designers to study how they use furniture.

Mini classrooms with big circular pods allow teachers and students to get out of their classrooms, creating choice in their teaching environments.

At its core, the design represents the diversity of student learning habits, as well as the ability for the library to create healthier and more engaged students. Access to daylight and sustainable materials provide for a healthier interior environment, while preserving views and a connection to nature. At the same time, systems were updated to reduce energy use and operate more efficiently, including upgraded HVAC systems and lighting design. Lighting power was reduced by 66% from an industry baseline.

In every way, the library was an important milestone for the school, Merz says.

“The updated design and furniture better reflect the way that students learn and collaborate in the 21st century,” she says.

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A 25-yard-by-33-meter competition pool accommodates both swimming and water polo teams and is the latest facility completed on the Sage Hill campus.

“It is a dynamic environment that allows for flexible study and meeting spaces or quiet areas for students to hunker down and study.”

LPA is now collaborating with the school as it explores the possibility of its next phase, a potential new middle school and second gymnasium. (See below.)

“Our relationship with LPA has been so strong over the years,” Merz says. “Our beautiful, state-of-the-art campus and facilities are always a big selling point in attracting prospective families, and we are grateful for LPA’s partnership in bringing our vision for the Sage Hill campus to life.”


A Possible Next Step

If approved, a new middle school and competition gymnasium on a tight site would position the campus for the future.

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Sage Hill School is currently considering its next step to promote the school’s continued growth and success. A feasibility study conducted over the last few months will help the Board of Trustees determine if the school should move forward with this next stage of its evolution — a new facility that would provide a home for a new middle school and create space for the addition of a larger competition gym. The Board will vote later this year on whether to launch a capital campaign to raise the funds needed for this project.

Preliminary designs for this potential project call for a three-story building that would be built into the 30-foot slope. Classrooms would occupy the top two floors and surround a private courtyard dedicated for the middle school students. A large social staircase would extend along the exterior, including a plaza café and terraced seating for large groups of students. The gym would be designed to seat 800 in bleachers while providing two full practice cross courts. It would open to outdoor terraces on two sides for spectators and big school events. The compact design purposely blends into the school’s distinctive look, while addressing multiple campus goals on the limited site.

“When you look at the original campus and how well it nestles into the hillside, this building would feel like it’s always been there and part of this campus,” says Senior Project Designer Lindsay Hayward. “Our goal for the new facility would be to maximize the usable open space and take full advantage of the existing 30-foot hillside.”