Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a multi-part series about the new science complex at Crossroads School.

When teachers at Crossroads School were initially asked about what they’d like to see in a new science center, at least a few of them responded with a simple request: windows — with natural light.

“We said, ‘Think bigger,'” project manager Elaine Nesbit said. “They got to dream.”

And so they did.

Educators — and students, too — have given input throughout the design and construction of the Santa Monica private school’s $20-million, 25,000-square-foot Science Education & Research Facility, which is scheduled to be completed this summer.

School officials believe the facility will position students for innovative problem-solving in an age characterized by evolving technologies and complex global issues.

“At the end of the day,” Nesbit said, “it’s not the administrators’ building or the architect team’s building. It’s for the students and the faculty.”

Complementing the school’s 1989 arts facility and 1996 library, the soon-to-open 21st Street building will provide learning environments specifically tailored for scientific study.

Large, open classrooms can be expanded with the removal of their shared partitions. Hanging points offer flexibility for projects and presentations. There’s a fume-hood lab where students will perform hands-on chemistry experiments. A designated physics room will be outfitted with a blackout curtain for light experiments.

Crossroads, one of the few high schools in the country offering organic chemistry, also intends to add a new curriculum in engineering and design to its slate of academic courses.

Planning for the new science center began several years ago as school officials saw a need for facility improvements. They toured public and private campuses in the region for inspiration, and they asked Crossroads teachers and students to contribute ideas in meetings about the project.

In one meeting, two middle school teachers gave a presentation in which they advocated for adjoining classrooms, a prep/cleanup area, a space for collaborative assignments, direct access to the outdoors and nearby bathrooms.

“Exactly what they asked for was what we were able to give them,” Nesbit said.

Meanwhile, as interested as Head of School Bob Riddle is in what students learn, he’s perhaps even more intrigued by how they learn.

To that end, Crossroads brought samples of several different kinds of chairs to campus and gathered input from students on their preferences. One student, an athlete, mentioned stiffening up in a chair after practice. Another noted feeling lethargic after lunch. The school now plans to put a few adjustable standing desks in each of the new building’s classrooms.

In conceiving the facility, school officials aimed to encourage student interaction and collaboration. There’s flexible outdoor space on each story. There are wide exterior staircases, popular hangouts on other parts of the campus. And there will be an informal study room with casual furniture where students can write on the glass, discuss projects and share ideas.

“For years researchers have been closed in to their cubbyholes, and it doesn’t allow for interaction with other scientists,” Nesbit said. “Things are being re-designed to have casual get-togethers. That happenstance of interaction is where a lot of discovery happens.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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