Environmental Nature Center Preschool

Newport Beach, California

LEED Platinum, net-zero school delivers nature-based education

The Environmental Nature Center (ENC) Preschool seamlessly blends indoor and outdoor learning environments to provide children with an intuitive understanding of the natural world. Developed in collaboration with educators, the community and the existing Environmental Nature Center – the first LEED Platinum building in Orange County - every space is designed to spark creativity, cooperative learning and imagination.

Classrooms open to a central courtyard, which connects to the nature learning center through a covered breezeway. Each of the classrooms is open and flexible, with movable walls that allow indoor spaces to blend with the outdoors.

There are three distinct zones, each named after a national park—Sequoia, Joshua Tree and Yosemite – and connected with a tricycle path. Boulders, logs and tree stumps define open-air learning spaces. An organic garden next to a kitchen provides teaching opportunities and the opportunity for students to prepare their own food.

To take advantage of the coastal climate, the original building and the preschool were oriented to allow for natural ventilation, significantly reducing initial and long-term operating costs. All the rock and natural elements are movable, allowing kids to create their own environments.

Energy efficiency and water conservation are baked into every element of the LEED Platinum, net-zero facility. The butterfly-shaped roof opens the classrooms to natural light and supports photovoltaic panels that are designed to provide 105 percent of the net energy for the preschool’s electrical needs. Single-sloped roofs capture the water, which is channeled through rock basins to bioswales, where the water is naturally treated and clarified by plant materials before leaving the site to recharge aquifers. All of the plants across the ENC campus are native to California and do not require irrigation.

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