The natural choice for a school with an eye on the future.

In a school as forward looking as La Esquelita Educational Center (LEEC) in Oakland, CA only Smith System furniture would do. LEEC provides a prototype other schools are certain to emulate. Here’s why.

Completed in August 2012, LEEC was built to replace a number of neighborhood schools, which had simply reached the end of their utility, according to Dave Smith, Smith System regional sales manager. “LEEC represents a 21st Century thought process in every way,” he says.

The complex, consisting of a 360-student K-5 elementary school, 180-student high school and 168-student child development center/community health clinic, is sited in downtown Oakland (it’s sometimes referred to as the Downtown Educational Complex). LEEC is CHPS-Certified campus and designed for grid-neutrality. Its handsome contemporary exterior, accented with primary colors, suggests innovative engineering that went into the building. And it did.

Oakland Unifed

Photo credit: MVE Institutional

The campus includes:

•Evaporative cooling

•Photovoltaic-generated electricity

•Displacement ventilation

•Rainwater aqueduct system

As a resource for a diverse urban population and a student population ranging from age four through young adult, LEEC needed to convey a sense of inclusion to all. Project architect, MVE Institutional, wove the “rainbow of an educational environment” concept throughout the facility. “The building exteriors make use of primary colors,” says Robert Puleo who served as director of interiors for MVE Institutional on the project. Robert extrapolated from those colors, choosing more subtle secondary and tertiary colors for the interiors.

Fitting furniture into this complex scenario proved relatively simple. Jane Mele of MB Contract was involved in the project from its inception and recalls some of the criteria that went into the selection. “It’s a very ‘green’ design, and there’s great emphasis on the school’s environment. That Smith System has GREENGUARD For Children and Schools certification for its entire product line factored into the decision,” she says. “The functionality of the furniture played a big part, too.”


Jane and Robert Puleo cited the ergonomics and freedom of movement afforded to the student by Flavors Seating as important. Same for the integrated backpack pegs on the Planner Desks. And the color choices available in both lines allowed Robert to complement a color scheme that changed throughout the campus from pre-school through high school, starting with violet and blue in pre-school transitioning to blue and green in the elementary school.

“I used blue for the elementary school chairs, with a deeper shade of blue for the edge bands of the desks,” he says. “The color tells which chair goes with which grade. Each is unique, yet each harmonizes.” Robert also acknowledged, “many other manufacturers who offer products in the right price range couldn’t meet our color requirements.”

In addition to the functionality of their backpack pegs, desks from Smith System’s Planner line provided needed durability.  Robert explained that space efficiency and cost effectiveness influenced the choice of two-student desks, “after the project was programmed, the teachers requested more furniture than the original plan provided for. We found a plan to integrate more seating and allow more students in the same amount of space. Smith System’s pricing was competitive enough that we were able to meet our budget.”

When it came to installation, more flexibility on the part of the team was required. “In our industry, Murphy is going to show up at every job,” Jane Mele relates. “It’s just how you react to it that matters.” In this case, the site’s limited space for staging wasn’t yet paved when the installation had to begin and construction on the school wasn’t completed. “It’s all about the team you work with,” Jane says. She and her team finished the installation in a week and a half, moving around the school as it was made available.

One complication the installation team didn’t face was a long punch list. “There was only one minor example of damage in the order,” Jane noted, adding “and it was quickly fixed!”

The goodwill of the project continued as the school opened to the public – some of which opposed the closing of their neighborhood schools. “When the people saw the campus their objections melted away,” says Dave Smith. “They were surprised and pleased. The teachers were thrilled, too. They loved the new furniture and the colors the architects chose. It’s really great for the kids to have something so nice to call their own.”