The center features sustainable design and outdoor learning areas. Courtesy of Allen ISD.

Sept. 17, 2019

A North Texas ISD will promote environmental education with a new state-of-the-art sustainable campus.

Allen Independent School District recently celebrated the opening of its "green" STEAM Center last month.

School districts around the country are establishing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) centers to help meet a burgeoning need for science-related skills in industry. The United States has fallen behind India, China and the European Union in the number of STEM graduates it produces, according to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Allen ISD STEAM CenterThe center’s Exploratorium houses the OmniGlobe, which provides interactive presentations and visualization experiences about topics of global scope such as geophysical and meteorological data, climate, ecology and demographics. Courtesy of Allen ISD.

Here in North Texas, the Allen ISD is doing its part to reverse that trend with a new STEAM (the “A” is for arts) Center that brings an innovative indoor-outdoor approach to teaching and learning, while placing environmental education at the center of its mission. The district describes its STEAM concept as an interconnected approach to learning science, technology, engineering, art and math, removing the traditional barriers separating those disciplines.  

Designed by VLK Architects, the center’s futuristic two-story arc-shaped building features a 250-seat theater, subject-specific studios, collaborative workspaces, learning trails, ecological zones for exploration and classroom spaces with direct access to outdoor learning areas. Those include a wetlands zone, various forest zones, a blackland prairie and a wildflower meadow. The site has wayfinding signage explaining scientific or mathematical concepts behind specialized items such as wind turbines, photovoltaic cells, bioswales and even decomposing logs.

Allen ISD STEAM Center pondCourtesy of Chad M. Davis, AIA, VLK Architects

Students also can explore a pond more than a half-acre in size that serves as a living laboratory. A shallow shelf along the pond’s perimeter provides habitat for amphibians and aquatic plants, as well as feeding protection for small fish. Pond-edge planting also helps with erosion control and acts as a sediment filter, teaching students about the management of those processes.

The center, which incorporates energy-efficient lighting, low-water-use features and all-native plants, is built to LEED green-building standards, though the district is not seeking official LEED certification.

The STEAM Center property includes grasses and plants that represent the blackland prairie that once covered the Allen area. Most of the grasses will be minimally trimmed to provide a natural environment. Courtesy of Allen ISD.

Executive director Larry Labue said the Allen ISD’s educational philosophies fueled the decision to build the center, which opened Aug. 14. 

“A driving force is the district mission statement: ‘Allen ISD cultivates innovation in education that empowers every learner to realize his or her full potential,’” he said. “The school was also inspired by STEAM-related industries, growing career needs and the opportunity to expose students to complex processes in a natural and conducive learning environment.” 

Labue added that the idea for the center also grew out of the Allen High School Graduate Profile, which states that graduates “will be academically prepared for future pursuits, effective problem-solvers, effective communicators and responsible and engaged citizens.”

Courtesy of Chad M. Davis, AIA, VLK Architects

High schoolers can choose from a menu of more than 25 classes, including earth and space science, aquatic science, physics, computer science, architectural design and graphic design. The center also offers K-8 pupils a wide variety of indoor and outdoor learning experiences in a field-trip format.

STEM and STEAM centers populate other DFW-area school districts, but Labue said the Allen facility has innovations that set it apart. 

“We are unique in the fact we have a STEAM indoor facility and outdoor learning facility all in one. We are also unique in the number of learning features available to assist teachers with providing students real-world experiences with the concepts they are learning.”

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