Bell Hill Academy

Aedis Architects and Landmark Construction rise to the challenge, delivering Bell Hill Academy’s program needs and complying with accessibility codes on an exceptionally small, steeply sloping site, with a limited budget.

At last, after more than 90 years, the students at Grass Valley School District’s Bell Hill Academy – the longest continuously operating public school in California – can enjoy a fully equipped multipurpose facility. The new building is complete with a dining and assembly space, warming and prep kitchen, restrooms, library, and storage.

The story begins with the passage of Measure D, the District’s first local bond since 1967, and a small amount of State modernization eligibility. The school’s needs, identified in their 2017 District Master Plan were clear, and Aedis’s design team worked with the District, and its Management and Builder partners to efficiently shoehorn the taxpayer-funded program into the space available.

The 4,000 s.f. of program had to fit into a 9,900 s.f. area on the campus with slopes approaching 40%, and a vertical drop of 20 feet from one boundary to the opposite. The accessibility strategy was to locate the program at an elevation to match the main campus, thus serving the most students continuously, and establish accessible routes to and from the rest of the campus. To accommodate the small area available, the footprint is configured to dovetail with existing buildings to create discrete outdoor learning and gathering spaces and to comply with building separation requirements. Also, the building mass (roof heights) were reduced at the perimeter property lines to respect the neighbors and protect their daylight planes.

Budgeting construction in the rural gold country is challenging because the scarcity of a skilled and trained workforce, the costs of transporting materials from distribution hubs, and the physical challenges of hilly and forested areas. The whole team collaborated to explore alternative delivery methods and modular building systems. In the end, the most economical route took advantage of the local labor pool and conventional building methods to maximize competitive pricing and labor availability.

Over the next 90 years, generations of students at Bell Hill Academy will eat, learn, and perform in their beautifully daylit facility, and will come to appreciate the commitment of the Grass Valley School District in bringing it into being.