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

Crossroads School will soon be a breeding ground for discovery — literally.

The campus’ new science and research facility was designed to promote the growth of the monarch butterfly population as well as awareness of the environmental issues at play in the protracted decline of the species.

It’s all part of the Santa Monica private school’s aim to develop students’ critical-thinking skills as they learn about the real-world issues around them.

Outside the $20-million, 250,000-square-foot facility will be an educational garden with planters shaped like a bar graph showing the monarch butterfly population over time. On the roof of the multi-story structure will be a feeding habitat for the orange and black insects.

The idea to integrate butterflies into the project came about with the help of Pamela Burton’s Santa Monica-based landscape architecture firm.

“Our charge was about teaching science,” said Robin Carmichael, a member of Burton’s team. “We had to think long and hard about how we could engage the students.”

Burton, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UCLA, has served on the Architectural Review Board in Santa Monica as well as on a City of Los Angeles design committee. Her firm’s portfolio includes campuses and residences as well as a variety of other spaces, including Santa Monica Public Library grounds.

A Santa Monica native, Burton said she was particularly excited to work on the science center at Crossroads.

“When we were asked to help out, we were so thrilled,” she said. “It’s really a wonderful place. … Every project has to have a big idea that engages people, and then the aesthetic part comes along with it. … We just loved the idea of the monarchs.”

The building’s rooftop features a green space where the school will grow milkweed, a major larval food source for monarch butterflies. Students will not have access to the rooftop area because the plant is potentially toxic, Crossroads spokeswoman Sara Ring said.

However, according to project manager Elaine Nesbit, a video camera will be positioned on the roof to capture footage of pupae development that will be streamed online.

The rooftop area will complement nectar plants in beds on the ground level — “a place for them to eat and travel on their merry way,” Nesbit said.

There will also be a puddling area with mud and a eucalyptus tree, a symbolic nod to the groves that monarchs often occupy on their epic migrations.

Their complex travel patterns are of major interest to scientists as monarch butterfly populations have declined.

The planters in the Crossroads garden will form a chronological bar graph of the population figures dating back to the mid-1990s, and Nesbit said the most recent entries are among the shortest.

But awareness of the butterfly decline has grown in recent months, she said, and the garden includes room for students to place planters for the next few years.

“I’m hoping the last one is longer,” she said.

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

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