The Environmental Nature Center plans to construct its first preschool on its five-acre campus in Newport Beach.
The center, founded in 1972, offers field trip programs and nature camps during school breaks to students in kindergarten through high school. Last year, around 12,500 students participated in these programs.
Adding a preschool to their facility seemed like a natural fit, the center's Executive Director Bo Glover said.
"Kids have such a disconnect with the natural word these days because of texting and computers," he said. "So we looked at developing something for the early age to develop their creative thinking and observation skills."
The facility currently includes a butterfly house, habitats for 15 of California's plant communities and an 8,500-square-foot building containing a nature museum and classrooms.
The center plans to have the school accommodate a maximum of 75 students and hopes to open in 2017.
This new addition to the campus was designed by LPA, a sustainable design architecture firm in Irvine. The company was also responsible for designing the nature center's existing building.
According to LPA design lead Richard D'Amato, the preschool is set to have solar panels, classrooms with direct access to outdoor spaces and, tentatively, outdoor play areas modeled after the landscapes of Joshua Tree, Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. Construction of this school will also incorporate rammed earth, a technique that involves assembling walls out of tightly packed soil and other natural materials.
"The whole idea is to have nature be a part of the school," D'Amato said. "We wanted to build a sense of whimsy and give it a unique form. It is a preschool after all."
The concept won LPA an award from the American Institute of Architects, Orange County Chapter's 2015 Design Awards in September.
The preschool was one of eight facilities to receive the Citation Award award out of a pool of 56 project entries in the competition.
The jury of architects responsible for selecting awardees noted that the school's design "worked seamlessly" and "a great deal of thought was given to the creation of a learning environment where nature was the focus," according to a release.
"When I was a kid, I was climbing trees and turning rocks on streams," Glover said. "The preschool students will, of course, learn their ABC's and their 1-2-3's, but they'll be using the outdoors as their classroom. This is a chance to initiate them into lifelong, meaningful relationships to the natural world."
The nature center plans to begin construction on the school next year.