La Scuola Sites New Campus in the Mission

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La Scuola International School campus at Tennessee and 20th streets. Photo: Potrero View Staff

According to Head of School Valentina Imbeni, PhD., Italian-immersion La Scuola is delighted with its new campus in the Mission, but would’ve preferred to have stayed in Dogpatch, where its pre-kindergarten program is located. 

Established in 2002, La Scuola is a co-educational day school with 300 preschool through eighth grade students split between two campuses: the preschool on 20th Street, the rest in the Mission.  

“To be perfectly honest, we looked at pretty much every single available warehouse and building in the Dogpatch,” said Imbeni. “We love the neighborhood.” 

The school’s long-term goal is to have two classes per grade up to eighth grade. To accommodate the increased population La Scuola needed more space. Unable to identify a suitable property in Potrero Hill or Dogpatch, La Scuola looked elsewhere. A short term site was found on Fell Street for kindergarten through second grades, which the school left in November. During the 2018-2019 school year, La Scuola signed a 60-year lease with the Catholic Archdiocese that includes the old St. Charles Borromeo School, a Catholic institution that closed in 2017 due to low enrollment and the inability to pay for much-needed seismic retrofits.

La Scuola plans to maintain its preschool in Dogpatch, for which it has 25 years left on a 35-year lease. The other grades will meet at 3250 18th Street, the St. Charles School building, 3270 18th Street, which used to be a convent, and 741 South Van Ness, also called San Carlos Hall, which was used by the St. Charles School for classrooms and a gym.  

La Scuola will renovate the St. Charles and San Carlos buildings to ultimately house kindergarteners through eighth graders. The convent was demolished last summer to make way for a brand-new structure. La Scuola placed three modular structures at the convent site, prefabricated buildings constructed in standardized mobile unit sizes which’re being used as classrooms. Despite the connotations of “modular structures,” the schoolrooms are quite nice, according to Imbeni. The flooring has been redone; the insides look like Reggio Emilia classes.  

Reggio Emilia is a philosophy that’s student-centered and uses self-directed, experiential learning in relationship-driven environments. The new buildings will be designed by the same architect used at the Dogpatch site: Michele Zini, from Italian-based ZPZ Partners, with support from Bay Area firm HKIT Architects. Previously, Perkins & Will worked on the project. 

“[Zini] has worked worldwide to advance this idea that there is a very close relationship between pedagogy and architecture, which is really something unique about La Scuola,” Imbeni said. “It’s unusual that people put so much care into the way the space is … it’s very, very important that we give [students] an environment that they deserve.”

Along with classrooms, La Scuola’s new campus will have piazzas where students, parents, and teachers can meet. There’ll be atelier spaces to host creative activities; art, music, science, or environmental studies. Use of light, color, and lines is intentional at Reggio Emilia schools. At the Dogpatch building, for instance, not every wall is a straight 90 degrees; some are curved because that’s how students move, according to Imbeni. 

Director of Advancement Robin Bonaso said, “The connection between pedagogy and our environment is an essential part of who we are, how we learn, and what makes us ‘La Scuola.’ We use natural colors and materials often, but also you will notice many colors – especially pastels of pink, orange, green and blue – throughout our school. Through joyful color, our campuses inspire the use of all senses and an appreciation of beauty. We embrace beauty as a human right!” 

The new building at the site of the demolished convent will rise 55 feet. Its façade will consist of a louver system to act as sun shades for a colored glass curtain wall system. San Carlos Hall’s façade will be refurbished to restore its original design in the Italianate architectural style; defensive gates at the entrances will be removed. 

La Scuola is in the entitlement process for its new campus, going through the necessary steps at the San Francisco Planning Department for design approval. Construction is estimated to cost about $26 million. La Scuola is roughly one-third of the way to raising $10 million, according to Bonaso. The rest will be financed. 

“If it all goes well, we could potentially have children in seats by 2024, 2025,” Imbeni said.