The Environmental Learning Center (SAMI)


About this project

This innovative Environmental Learning Center will feature eight SAMI classrooms, including two science labs, plus administrative space, an early learning center, and space for zoo staff and volunteers. This project is a partnership between Tacoma Public Schools and Metro Parks Tacoma.

Square footage: 30,100
Total projected cost: $19 million
Percent complete: 55% (4/20/17)
Estimated open date: Fall 2017
Architect: McGranahan Architects
Contractor: Forma Construction

News & updates


5/5/17 update: Bridge installation begins over Animal Loop Road

On May 4, Forma construction crews began installing the steel frame for the pedestrian bridge that will stretch over Point Defiance Park's Animal Loop Road, connecting the Environmental Learning Center with nearby trails.

ZOO PARKING DETOUR: During construction, the part of Animal Loop Road will be closed, obstructing one access point to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium parking lot. Follow directional signage to either enter the park at the Camp 6 entrance, or follow the road past the Rhododendron Garden, Owen Beach and Camp 6 to reach other access points to the parking lot.

Check the Point Defiance Traffic Alert web page for the latest on road closure information and detours.

Want the latest SAMI construction news?

To get the latest construction news and photos for the new Environmental Learning Center at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, you can sign up for e-newsletter updates.


Construction begins at new Science & Math Institute building (update 8/1/16)

Forma Construction of Tumwater is mobilizing on site to begin construction on the building currently referred to as the Environmental Learning Center. 

Project Timeline 
May 9 & May 16 – Bid Advertisements
June 3 – Bid Opening
June 23 - School Board approval
July 5 – Anticipated Start of Construction
June 2017 – Anticipated Construction Substantial Completion
September 2017 – Anticipated Opening​

Take a virtual tour of the Environmental Learning Center!

This animation gives a glimpse into what the future will look like for Tacoma Public Schools’ Science and Math Institute. This 30,000-square-foot Environmental Learning Center will include eight formal learning settings for SAMI and community use, communal space for collaborative and interpretive activities, planning/work space for SAMI and Zoo educators, coordination/work space for Zoo staff and volunteers, and a setting for a nature-oriented learning environment. Construction on this project is expected to begin this summer.​


The SAMI dream

Here is a look at the proposed design plan originally presented by the then-executive director of Planning & Construction for Tacoma Public Schools, executive directors for Metro Parks and McGranahan Architects for board approval.

SAMI School Design Presentation


Tacoma Schools Plans New Facility for Science and Math Institute

"We are looking at a paradigm shift in how teaching works, we are no longer based on that model with the front of the classroom where the teachers are the sole proprietors of knowledge."

Steve Murakami from Tacoma Public Schools talks about the plans for the new facilities for the Science and Math Institute. Working with Metro Parks Tacoma, TPS contracted Tacoma's McGranahan Architects to plan the building. Designer Michael McGavock explains the philosophy behind how SOTA and SAMI are embedded within a community like Tacoma. Curtis Hancock from Metro Parks shows how project based learning will be highlighted in these new spaces, which are being incorporated into Metro Parks' master plan for construction at Point Defiance Park.

Produced by Zach Varnell for Elements of Education
Edited and Motion Graphics by SOTA Student Ryan Lee
Music by SOTA Student Ian Jury
Author: elementsofeducation1 | Published: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 | Duration: 4:44 (284 seconds)