Skip to main content
Back to Top
Article | January 9, 2017

San Francisco Space Inspires, Educates Under-resourced Students

The generous contributions from consultants, subcontractors and suppliers for the build of 826 Valencia's new writing center in the Tenderloin amounted to nearly $2 million.

Cynthia Gage, Director, Marketing | BCCI Construction for Retrofit Magazine

826 Valencia is a non-profit named after its first location, which was established in 2002 in San Francisco’s Mission District. Founded by Educator Nínive Calegari and Author Dave Eggers, 826 Valencia offers writing, publishing and tutoring opportunities for under-resourced students. It is regarded as one of San Francisco’s most notable educational organizations working toward closing the academic achievement gap and igniting a love of learning. Today, with the support of more than 5,000 volunteers in a total of eight centers across the country (Ann Arbor, Mich.; Boston; Chicago; Los Angeles; New York; and Washington, D.C.), 826 Valencia helps more than 30,000 children per year.

In 2015, 826 Valencia sought to open a second location in San Francisco. The Tenderloin, a 50-block neighborhood in the heart of the city, has long been challenged by poverty, homelessness, and crime and was in dire need of safe spaces for youth. Calegari, Eggers and 826 Valencia Executive Director Bita Narzarian also recognized a lack of educational programs in the Tenderloin, specifically for writing.

Along with their lead architect Jonas Kellner, Calegari, Eggers and Narzarian looked at several potential spaces in the neighborhood that were too small or too expensive before locating a 5,000-square-foot ground-floor space for lease in a 2-story brick structure at the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Leavenworth Street. During its nearly 100-year history, the building had been used as a carriage repair warehouse; film archive; Filipino restaurant; and, finally, a corner store known for criminal activity.

Chosen primarily for its proximity to area housing, schools, and the Tenderloin Boys & Girls Club, the building required extensive tenant improvements—including demolition, abatement of asbestos and lead, and structural upgrades—to create a safe and comfortable environment for children to learn and thrive.

Kellner contacted San Francisco-based BCCI Construction Co. about joining the construction team for the build-out of what would become 826 Valencia Tenderloin Center. “I’ve always wanted to get involved with a project that would really give back to the city that has been so good to BCCI,” says BCCI President and CEO Michael Scribner. “I really believe in what 826 Valencia stands for—the children it serves and the changes they’ve seen in the neighborhoods where they are located.”

Consequently, BCCI donated all its labor and fees to support the new center, making it the largest charitable project that BCCI has been involved with to date. The general contractor also spearheaded an outreach program with the local subcontractor community that proved tremendously successful. Some of the Bay Area’s largest companies, including more than 60 subcontractors, suppliers and designers, came together to collectively devote their time and energy to build out the space and benefit the city’s urban youth.

The Build-out

Structural deficiencies and many unexpected conditions were uncovered during demolition. For example, it was discovered that the building was without a foundation. New footings were poured and structural posts and beams were installed to support the unreinforced masonry structure.

Previously, the ground-floor space had been rented as three separate units, which all contained a number of small rooms and partitions. With the removal of walls and drop ceilings, the new layout creates a contiguous, open plan and 18-foot exposed ceilings in the writing center.

On the exterior, BCCI tore out plywood finishes; built an entirely new storefront; and installed new doors, windows, metal panels and two new roll-up doors for security. The building also received a fresh coat of paint and the addition of a sea creature mural with a giant octopus.

The retrofit team took advantage of the extraordinary salvage opportunities available in the Bay Area, incorporating reclaimed doors, wood, mirrors, windows, sheet metal and a fireplace.

Although the non-profit did not target green-building certification, the project had to meet LEED-CI Silver equivalency as part of San Francisco’s Green Building Code. To help minimize electrical costs during the life of the lease, the project was designed to exceed California’s Title 24 energy-efficiency standards. Modern materials assisted with these strategies. For example, window film was installed to minimize thermal loads on the space while also redirecting light for glare control and providing protection against breakage.

As with all 826 Valencia locations, the new space includes a themed retail storefront, King Carl’s Emporium, which students traverse before entering the writing lab. The retail concept was originally born out of need. When the founders discovered their first writing center in San Francisco’s Mission District was zoned for retail, they had to come up with something to sell and, ultimately, became a pirate supply store. Since then the retail stores have become an essential component to each location. Not only do the stores create community awareness and raise funds to support the non-profit’s educational programs, each store has a unique theme to appeal to the kids they serve and offers student-published books for sale, as well as an array of unusual products (visit here for details).

With eclectic design elements, such as a fog bank, rope shelving, a trapdoor, portholes and a wall of doors, the Tenderloin center store reinforces a theme of exploration. The interactive wall of doors is the gateway to the student writing lab, providing various options as points of entry: through a standard door, bunny door and even a hidden passageway in the fireplace.

Once inside the writing lab, a treehouse is perched high above the room with treasures tucked in cubbyholes below. Two different floor levels in the writing lab—an existing condition revealed during demolition—turned out to be a benefit, supporting multifunctional use for tutoring and presentations. Beyond the writing lab is a conference room and 826 Valencia’s new administrative office to support the nonprofit’s operations.

One of the gems found during demolition was vintage, hand-painted wallpaper that included the image of a map. The map, which is located in a conference room in the main learning center, now symbolizes the places students, as explorers, can travel by opening their world to education and expression.

Renovation Team

The design of the project is the result of an incredible collaboration between multiple firms in San Francisco. MKThink and Jonas Kellner took the lead on the interior architecture for the writing center while INTERSTICE Architects created the vision for the exterior. Gensler drove the retail concepts, designing the interiors for the emporium while Office worked on the store branding, signage and product design.

The generous contributions from San Francisco-based subcontractors and suppliers, all provided at cost or in-kind, amounted to nearly $2 million. Typically on a commercial build-out, there is one subcontractor hired per trade to complete the scope for its particular specialty. However, on 826 Valencia Tenderloin Center, there were many instances where multiple subcontractor firms, who are typically competitors, worked side-by-side to shoulder the work and minimize the final cost of the project.

Construction began in September 2015 and was completed in May 2016. The project took longer than expected because of the unforeseen structural conditions; a dated electrical panel that was original to the building; and the challenge of scheduling and coordinating donated resources, especially during a construction boom. Despite the obstacles, everyone involved is extremely proud of what was accomplished and looks forward to seeing how the new writing center will positively impact the local community and inspire the next generation of San Franciscans.

“We’re grateful to our architecture, design, and construction partners for donating their time and materials, so the rest of our resources can go to creating more free programs for kids,” Eggers says.

Retrofit Team

General Contractor: BCCI Construction
Construction Manager: Valerie Veronin
Design Team: GenslerINTERSTICE Architects; Jonas Kellner, Architect; and MKThink
Wall of Doors Designer: Design Workshops
Engineers: Glumac Engineering and Tipping Structural Engineers
Mechanical Contractor: Pribuss Engineering
Lighting Representative: ALR – Associated Lighting Reps Inc.
Artists: Qris Frye; Dylan GoldRaven Mahon; and Bill Plumb
Metal Framing: B Metals
Interior Construction: California Drywall Co.DW Nicholson Corp.; Richard Hancock Inc.; and Stockham Construction Inc.
Fire Alarm Installer: Fire Detection Unlimited Inc.
Sprinkler Installer: Golden Gate Fire Protection
Electrical Supplier: Independent Electric Supply Inc.
Electrical Contractor: McMillan Electric Co.Paganini Electric Corp.Sprig Electric; and Young Electric Co.
Plumbing: Ayoob & Peery Plumbing Co.
Glazing Installer: Mission Glass Co. and Progress Glass Co. Inc.
Drywall Installer: Surber Drywall Construction Inc.
Acoustical Contractor: SF Interiors
Painting: Giampolini Inc. and Monticelli Painting and Decorating
Roofing: The Lawson Roofing Co. Inc.
Graphics/Branding: BBDO San Francisco and Office
Deconstruction: Bluewater Environmental Services Inc.
Commissioning: National Air Balance Co.


Graphics: AMP Printing and Graphics
Mechanical System: Anderson, Rowe & Buckley Inc.
Wood: Arrigoni Woods,
Flooring: Bay Area ConcretesCalifornia Wood FloorsInterface; Majestic Floors Inc.; Nor Cal Floor DesignShaw Floors; and Tandus Centiva
Tile and Stone: DaltileDe Anza Tile Co. Inc.Design and Direct Source; and Emser Tile
Millwork: Commercial Casework Inc.
Ceilings: Creative Ceilings and Drywall Inc.
Window Coverings: Cutting Edge Drapery
Lighting: FineliteOrion Chandelier; and Philips Lighting
Lighting Controls: Wattstopper
Hardware: HD Supply Construction & Industrial—White Cap and Service Metal Products Inc.
Furniture: Jak W and Vitra
Upholstery: Kay Chesterfield
Doors: Minton Door Co. and Overhead Door Co.
Security Systems: Microbiz Security Co.
Signage: New Bohemia
Sheet Metal: Omni Sheet Metal Inc.
Paint: PPG Paints
Coatings: Rubio Monocoat

Photos: Matthew Millman Photography

Sign up to receive the latest news, updates and insights from BCCI Construction.

    No spam policy: We take privacy seriously. You can unsubscribe at any time.

    You will be linking to another website not owned or operated by BCCI. BCCI is not responsible for the availability or content of this website and does not represent either the linked website or you, should you enter into a transaction. The inclusion of any hyperlink does not imply any endorsement, investigation, verification, or monitoring by BCCI of any information in any hyperlinked site. We encourage you to review their privacy and security policies which may differ from BCCI.

    If you “Proceed”, the link will open in a new window.