The Nature Lab is connected to the Montecito Union School campus on the south side by the Joffrey Bridge. Once across, you immediately feel a sense of awe and wonderment. The property houses 3 acres of outdoor learning and exploration across all disciplines – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics, and more. Children learn about working with and through nature, engage with engineering and design, and create the conditions for a biodiverse environment. This understanding is the foundation for a lifetime of environmental stewardship and innovation: “We act on the world and the world acts on us.” The Nature Lab inspires, supports, and extends into all studies. It provides opportunities for observation of nature and prolonged environmental studies. The Nature Lab’s goal is to create students with environmental literacy who can be agents of change. Therefore, Nature Lab fully supports Montecito Union’s mission to “Create inspired thinkers who positively impact the world.” This project will be primarily funded by donations made to the Montecito Union School Foundation over the next 2-3 years.

Click to download our planning document - "The Nature Lab - Vision for Montecito Union School Adjacent Property"

Current Areas of Funding:

1) The Collaboratory

The Collaboratory is located under the 250’ x 40’ Solar Shade Structure, which was built through a power purchase agreement program through the school and now generates 100% of the electricity needed for the school. Underneath this structure is where we get to dream big and students get to actively learn by making and doing. This centralized meeting space hosts collaborations, book talks, lectures, and serves as an open-air studio for nature-inspired making of all kinds, for large group instruction and inspiration.

This summer, 2022, we break ground on the Outdoor Learning Pavilion on the east end of the Collaboratory. The Outdoor Learning Pavilion will feature four teaching countertops with sinks and electrical capabilities where science, art, cooking and all types of messy learning can take place under the shade of our solar structure. The Learning Pavilion is being built by the MUS Foundation after two years of active fundraising.

2) The Pond and Water Features

This space will be for students to perform real time water studies, sustained observation of life cycles, rainwater management, and conservation. While still early in the design phase, we hope to have water features that will run naturally through the property from the Mustang Corral down to a pond at the edge of the Bird and Bear Orchard. This will consist of three different parts: 1) a smaller pond at the beginning by the Mustang Corral, 2) a running stream will flow out of it and meanders under the Collaboratory until it reaches the end of the Bird and Bear Orchard where it will pond into 3) a larger pond feature with rocks and plants surrounding the edge.

Naming Rights are available. We have engaged a firm to design, build and maintain the pond. We are dreaming big here as it will be such a beautiful feature on the property, and the larger it is the more diverse ecosystems it can offer to larger groups of kids. Cost will be upwards of $100,000.

3) Bathrooms

While not as fun and exciting as all of the other projects listed above, bathrooms are definitely needed at Nature Lab. Young children use Nature Lab every school day, and community events require bathrooms, so this project is necessary to the growth of Nature Lab. This will be a large part of our fundraising goal, anticipated at $600,000. The bathrooms will allow us to become an asset to the community as we will be able to host guests and community members without access to the inside of Montecito Union School. The bathrooms are planned and designed, and currently in the process of getting approved by the Department of State Architects. If we can find funding, the goal is to build the bathrooms in 2022-2023.

Past Funding:

In the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, the MUS Foundation Strategic Plan donation to Montecito Union School funded the demolition of the building that sat on this parcel of land, grading the property, building infrastructure such as water, wifi, and electric, building the Joffrey bridge, the low-lying Hyatt House and butterfly waystation surrounding, the Building Block Engineering Zone, planting the Bird and Bear Orchard, Cluckingham Palace Chicken coop, Chickens, Flash our tortoise and his enclosure, the Casa Del Sol Greenhouse, The Living Fence on the West end of the property, the Peus Meditation Grove, many supplies, as well as hiring consultants to help us design the above plans, vision, and layout. The superintendent, administration, teachers, specialists and staff have all been heavily involved in the consultant meetings as well as the dream/design phases so that we meet the needs of the teachers, staff, students, and school.

Please feel free to reach out to Tara Fergusson (, for any questions or inquiries on this project. We could not be more excited about the development of the Nature Lab, and greatly appreciate your participation in making it all possible.


Tara Fergusson