Galveston Bay Education Pavilion to be Dedicated

The Galveston Bay Foundation has seen the first structure go up on 30 acres of bayfront land in Kemah it acquired in 2016.

The Galveston County Daily News reports a pavilion designed and built by students from the University of Texas School of Architecture's Gulf Coast DesignLab will be used to host as many as 75 students at a time in grades five to 12 from across the upper Texas coast region, helping them learn on-site about Galveston Bay's wildlife, organisms, natural habitat and environmental threats.

"We're very excited to have the pavilion," said Cindy Wilems, the foundation's director of education. "It came up kind of quickly, out of the blue. The DesignLab came to us and it was perfect timing."

In June, DesignLab, an advanced studio design class, reached out to the foundation, offering its services and quickly learning the nature of the building site, the goals of the foundation's education team and how the foundation's particular type of education outreach worked.

"The students came out with us for a couple days and saw us in action with our students," Wilems said. "Then they did their own class the next day. Then they had a few weeks where they'd Skype with me, asking what felt like a thousand questions -- what we wanted to do in the long-term, in the short-term, what our needs were. They were so professional and thoughtful."

After discussion, assimilating ideas and making drawings, the architecture students in August went to Kemah and built the pavilion over a period of weeks. They put the finishing touches on it last week.

A dedication is planned for Saturday.

Middle school and high school students now will have shade, work benches to allow use of microscopes and a comfortable covered outdoor classroom with a sweeping view of the bay from which to learn.

"It's the first phase of what we hope to do here," said Bob Stokes, foundation president. "It's a great opportunity to give people access to the bay. It's a first step of a much bigger effort to have a significant presence here."

When enough dedicated funds have been raised, the foundation plans to put its headquarters, indoor and outdoor classrooms, trails and ponds on one of the last undeveloped bay-front properties of its size, making it a destination where visitors can experience and learn about the bay, its flora and fauna, conservation and sustainability science, according to the foundation.

The convergence of DesignLab students, dedicated to learning the dynamics of a rapidly changing coastal Texas, and the Galveston Bay Foundation's educational outreach is a natural outgrowth of how the advanced design in architecture class works.

Coleman Coker, professor of architecture at the university, devised the class out of his pioneering architectural practice that focused on what he calls public interest design. For 13 years in the 1980s and '90s, Coker partnered with Samuel Mockbee of the legendary Rural Design Studio, coming up with an ethic and practice of architecture that resisted a top-down approach, instead focusing on the environment and the unique needs of clients.

"Students get out of the classroom and work directly with people in the community," Coker said.

DesignLab projects include the Edward and Helen Oppenheimer Bird Observatory at the Artist Boat Coastal Heritage Preserve on Galveston Island and many others, all in coastal locations.

"We look for stakeholders working on the Gulf Coast, particularly in environmental education," Coker said.

This fall, DesignLab students will partner with the Houston Audubon Society to build a stand-alone screened-in porch and fire pit area on High Island at one of the organization's bird watching and counting sites.

"Students do construction drawings, then the last three or four weeks of the semester they go out and build the project," Coker said. "It teaches them the relationship between the design and what actually gets built."

Some students have never so much as held a hammer, while others may come with a minimal amount of construction experience, Coker said.

The Galveston Bay Foundation pavilion is the largest structure students have built, Coker said. It consists of a large raised platform and two metal walls/screens framing a view of the bay with two large cypress work tables, benches, and two small areas with compostable toilets.

Designed to accommodate 75 students, the pavilion was placed at a point of the foundation's acreage that allows direct access to hands-on work on the edge of the bay, such as seining for fish, examining oyster reefs, collecting water samples and picking up trash, all to learn more about the bay's unique features and the aquatic environment.

The screening walls are made of metal that will eventually rust to a red color, Coker said. Professional fabricators made the steel structures and students dug foundation holes, cleaned up the framing for the screens and built all other aspects of the pavilion. The Galveston Bay Foundation paid for materials and DesignLab donated time, designs, planning and construction.

"We talked about a solid and transparency relationship," Coker said. The screens are designed in such a way that looking at them from one angle, what's beyond them is not visible; from another angle, the view of the bay is open.

Considerations like the need for shade in the Texas sun and proper orientation for sun and wind also were built into the design and structure.

"Students come to architecture very idealistically," Coker said. "They want to change the world with their drawings.

"It's not so much about the building, as it is about the responsibility of public service, and listening to the stakeholder about their needs rather than a top-down approach to building," he said.

"The Galveston Bay Foundation is doing a remarkable job and we fully believe they'll use the pavilion to the max to teach the next generation to be better stewards of the bay."

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