2018—Elise Walker Outdoor Learning Center

Irving ISD—Elise Walker Outdoor Learning Center
Architect: Stantec

A unique partnership between the District, the City, and nearby Community College to realize a vision for a center where hands-on environmental education is made possible. The Outdoor Learning Center provides unique learning opportunities for students and faculty. Every indoor and outdoor space was designed to allow flexible use by multiple users. The 25-acre outdoor classroom allows students to explore as they journey through the trail system to study ecosystems, habitats and food chains.


  • Strategically placed trails and outdoor gathering spaces maximize the learning experience at each ecological site condition.
  • The outdoor learning center welcomes visitors and creates a gateway to the natural environment beyond.
  • The design is an expression of regional architectural vernacular with sustainable features that support the 25 acres of outdoor classroom.

Value—Star of DistinctionValue

  • A collaborative approach where land is owned by the community college and the facility is maintained by the school district, allowing shared-usage.
  • The center’s value offsets the cost to outsource field trips through reduced transportation costs and travel time.
  • Teachers have control of the curriculum, making it available to all grade levels.
  • The OLC is a community destination and a district-wide resource for meetings, professional development and hands-on training.

Sustainability—Star of DistinctionSustainability

  • Originally planned for a vehicular connection, this natural environment is now a preserved resource for the community.
  • Building placement reduced the need for new parking and minimized site disturbance.
  • Butterfly roof and cistern collect rain water to use for irrigation.
  • Clerestory windows maximize natural light.
  • Separately located and unconditioned support spaces help reduce operation costs.
  • Exposing the efficient glulam structure reduced building materials costs.

Community—Star of DistinctionCommunity

  • Transformed from an eye sore to a valuable resource for the district and community.
  • Creates a natural retreat and destination within an urban context. Natural setting is reflected and defined by the design.
  • Shared-use by district, college, and community.
  • Inspires students to learn about science today and sparks future interest in environmental conservation.


  • District leadership, teachers, community college and design team defined the vision for the center
  • With site originally planned as a vehicular connection, our strategic collaborative planning process re-purposed the site with the same funding
  • Trail system planned to respond to several factors: linking existing ecological zones, creating trails accessible to all students with minimal impact to existing environment
  • Transformed issue areas into study zones that offer learning opportunities

School Transformation

  • Re-imagined the site as a 25 acre outdoor classroom.
  • A site full of debris was returned to its natural state.
  • A new facility and outdoor study areas support multiple modes of instruction.
  • The site allows opportunities for project-based learning. Hands on testing and research are supported by outdoor trails and varied ecosystems.

Stars of Distinction Star of Distinction Category Winner