Leveraging the outdoors to expand STEAM and nature-based learning district-wide
North Monterey Unified School District (NMCUSD) wanted to build a world-class STEAM-based curriculum for its 4,500 Pre-K through 12th-grade students. However, with its low-income, mostly rural, immigrant population, NMCUSD could not procure the capital funds to renovate, much less build, new learning facilities on any of its seven campuses.
To inform how to best incorporate space for a STEAM-based curriculum with the existing infrastructure, MKThink led a data-driven assessment of the district’s campuses, co-crafted guiding principles, and led a multi-track engagement process. These determined campus needs pre and post-pandemic and revealed the opportunity to expand campus capacity by leveraging flow, quality, and utilization of outdoor spaces to support STEAM and nature-based learning. Once realized, MKThink developed low-cost, high-impact priority projects to generate community excitement while meeting the district’s guiding principles.
By supporting outdoor initiatives, NMCUSD increased the diversity of spaces at a fraction of the cost of equivalent new buildings. There was a 15% increase in effective capacity for instruction in addition to the master plan's 20% increase in indoor instructional capacity. New outdoor learning spaces include 34 outdoor classrooms, 16 nature play areas, 30 interaction spaces, 6 edible gardens, and 11 outdoor STEAM lab extensions. By using ‘living schoolyard’ guidelines, NMCUSD will replace over 5.5 acres of asphalt with permeable surfacing and natural play areas – initiatives shown to provide learning and environmental benefits.
North Monterey County Unified School District
Facilities Master Plan
Planning and Concept Design
Moss Landing, CA
460,000 NSF of built area
Pre-K through 12 Education