Category: K–12 Education
SANTA ROSA — The new Geospatial Science Center at Piner High School is a cutting edge, 21st century educational facility combining the study of astronomy, meteorology, geospatial information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS) into a unique interdisciplinary program.
This program uses State standards for math, science, engineering and technology and applies them to real-world research and applications.
The 5,000-square-foot center, built at a total cost of $3.7 million, features an astronomical telescope, GIS and GPS technology, climate and meteorological instruments and a multi-axis planetarium.
Of the total cost, some $2.7 million represents the hard cost of construction. An additional $510,000 was allocated for nonconstruction “soft costs” and another $285,000 for equipment.
Designed by Quattrocchi Kwok Architects, the new science complex was built under the direction of general contractor Helmer & Sons, Inc, supported by ZFA Structural Engineers.
The science center is comprised of two buildings in back of the campus quadrangle and the high school’s principal classroom structure. The main building is home for GIS- and GPS-related studies, a lab, a visualization theater (the planetarium with its eight-meter dome and capacity for 90 to 100 people), and a storeroom. A smaller building houses the astronomical observatory itself.
The visualization theater can also be used to project videos as well as images of molecules and DNA, for example, in addition to supporting other school departments — including English Department classes.
“This facility was developed for very specific, project-based hands-on learning programs,” said Kurt Kruger, one of two instructors specializing in geospatial information systems and space science.
“Our goal is to get students interested in science by not just talk about career opportunities, but by having them collect their own data, conduct authentic research and engage in reality-based space science projects, such as searching for asteroids, calculating the movement of astro bodies (astrometry) and studying stars that eclipse each other, for a few examples. They also prepare and deliver presentations on their findings and analyses.”
Student GIS studies are also used for practical earth science projects including the restoration of a nearby creek, a Santa Rosa community mapping study and similar mapping projects for city utility companies and the Pepperwood Preserve.
Coursework and practical applications were developed by local surveying companies, including Ray Carlson & Associates, Cinquini & Passarino Land Surveying and Hogan Land Services, environmental engineers at Environ Corp., SRJC’s Civil Engineering and Surveying Technology Department and its Robert Ferguson Observatory, Sonoma State University’s Physics and Astronomy program, the city of Santa Rosa and the county of Sonoma.
“Skills, such as GIS, are used by fire and police departments and also by commercial businesses (such as Starbucks) to help position their stores,” Mr. Kruger said. “These tools are also employed in the health and biotech sectors. Our goal is to transition science from the theoretical to the practical and to show how science can be fun, exciting and relevant in the real world. We also have students use laser range finders to take readings at the top and bottom of a tree to determine its height to show the value of geometry.”
Construction began on the science center in June 2012 and it was finished in October of this year, with some landscaping work still to be completed.
Initial funding came from a $1.7 million state Proposition 1D Career Technical Education School Facilities Program grant, based on the state’s 50-50 match standard for the original estimated cost of $3.4 million — the amount projected at the time the application was submitted. Additional funding was later acquired from private firms, other grants and donors.
A patio to the south of the main science building provides a venue for outdoor learning and large scale projects. An amphitheater on the exterior patio accommodates lectures, demonstrations and student gatherings.
The observatory includes a “warm room” where the telescope is controlled and images are viewed allowing more students to participate in the use of the telescope for longer periods, while remaining comfortable during cold nights.
The planetarium has a high definition projection system that displays three million pixels on the highly specialized 24-foot diameter perforated aluminum dome. This is the first high school in Sonoma County with a planetarium.
The facility is equipped with a full 5.1 surround-sound audio system for audio-visual presentations, and the lab has been designed with the flexibility to be used for lecture, individual and group work settings.
Solar panels and a wind turbine provide recordable data that is used in the curriculum so students can correlate weather patterns with the effects on electric power generation.
“We wanted our high school to be in a position to offer a complete STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) project-based curriculum to stimulate student interest in these fields and have them see and appreciate how the deployment of these disciplines can be applied in the local community,” Mr. Kruger said.
Mark Bartos of Bartos Architecture in San Mateo developed the original design concept for the Geospatial Science Center and was asked by the school board to write what later became the successful Career Technical Education Grant application for the center’s program.
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