22 December 2022

Project InFocus: Katy ISD Outdoor Learning Center

EHRA was contracted to support the renovation and expansion of the Katy Independent School District (Katy ISD) Welch Outdoor Learning Center (Learning Center), a model outdoor learning environment that has enriched the Katy ISD science, social studies and physical education curricula since 1982. Initially, the EHRA Hydrology and Hydraulics team, led by Andy Palermo, PE, CFM, executed a drainage needs and impact analysis for the Learning Center project. Soon after, in January of 2020, the EHRA Site Development team, led by Matt Gutzwiller, PE, joined in the professional services efforts and began site work for the project. 

The private site design included components such as detention pond and amenity lake design, paving, stormwater plans and water and sanitary solutions for areas up to five feet from four buildings and an open-air pavilion. Throughout the execution of these project elements, one major objective for the site team was to honor the aesthetic appeal desired by Katy ISD. The Learning Center campus is tucked into the woods, and Katy ISD wanted the renovated site to reflect a synergy with the surroundings with an elevated, natural looking landscape. In order to deliver on this request, EHRA developed site designs that allowed for preservation of as many trees as possible, while still meeting all detention and mitigation requirements for land that lies partially within the floodplain.

Site Development Project Manager, Matt Gutzwiller, PE, shares that the best part about working on this project was the unique and creative design ideas that EHRA utilized. For example, permeable pavement design was implemented, increasing the durability and stability of the campus roadways. This pavement was backfilled with decompose granite material that further enhances the overall nature-based visual appeal of the site, while maintaining the structural integrity of the pavement essential for fire lane use. Another example is the autofill amenity pond designed to double as the water source that serves the onsite fire standpipe the fire department can tie into in the event of an emergency. Furthermore, EHRA developed designs for a fishing pond positioned under one of the Learning Center buildings. Students can now enjoy fishing out of this convenient and attractive pond as part of their studies and recreation.  

One particular challenge the Site Development team faced was meeting the hard deadline for the initial open house on May 15th, 2021, after construction began in the summer of 2020. The schedule was tight as the expansion involved four new buildings, the relocation of an entire building and extensive hardscape and landscape additions. To overcome this challenge, the EHRA team planned many trips to the site, consistently evaluating and addressing all construction issues as they arose. The team remained ever ready to institute cost-effective solutions in real time, solutions that would not result in any scheduling delays. Ultimately, substantial completion was met, and the open house event was a success. 

Final construction on the improved and updated Learning Center was completed in the summer of 2021. EHRA is proud to have participated in the advancement of Katy ISD’s mission to provide cutting edge educational programming in a stimulating environment.