It was a big week at Sacramento City Unified School District’s (SCUSD) Nicholas Elementary School in Sacramento, California; with a community meeting on Wednesday and a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday, as the district prepares to rebuild the early-1960s campus. In the coming months, construction will begin on a new, flexible, future-focused campus designed by HMC Architects. The design is based on a village concept, with clusters of classrooms, called learning neighborhoods, organized around two central promenades, Main Street and Learning Avenue. The new 54,784 SF school will serve 650 students from transitional kindergarten through sixth grade. The renderings on display at both events showed a vibrant campus featuring an open library, a large multi-purpose room, gathering plazas, pops of bright color on the facades, lots of trees, a school garden, and a large soccer field.

The U14 soccer pitch, the gardens, and a dedicated community room are key elements of the campus that will be shared by the local community during non-school day hours. Designing Nicholas as a “Community School” has been one of the overarching goals of this project, to create a hub for the families of this south Sacramento neighborhood. There are some 5,000 community schools nationwide that utilize school facilities to deliver services and resources far beyond traditional educational activities. Another element that is very important to the community is a large heritage oak tree that will anchor the new campus. The gathering tree, towering 55 feet tall, will be the only remaining physical feature from the original school, a link between the past and the future.

Superintendent Jorge Aguilar and Board members mentioned at the groundbreaking that the Nicholas project will deliver a long-overdue resource to the students of this historically disadvantaged part of the district. As one of the largest school districts in California, SCUSD has made equity a key lens through which they are assigning the $750 million from their 2020 Measure H bond. Nicholas ES is one of three district elementary schools currently being reimagined and replaced.

Excitement among families and kids at both events this week was palpable. At the community meeting, young students and their parents asked good questions of the design team and district officials. Community members voted on exterior color schemes for the campus and on options for playground equipment. There was a showstopper moment at the groundbreaking when a second-grade girl delivered an especially posed set of remarks to the gathering.

Members of HMC’s PreK-12 practice participated in both events, including Brian Meyers, Jeff Grau, Vipul Safi, and Suzanne Sasaki-Hartstein. They were joined by our construction partners from CORE Construction and Kitchell. After demolition, site work, and an approximately 18-month building construction schedule, the campus will welcome back students in August of 2025.