Monterey Bay Aquarium Fact Sheet: Bechtel Family Center for Ocean Education and Leadership

May 09, 2019

Why Monterey Bay Aquarium built The Bechtel Family Center for Ocean Education and Leadership:

  • Since opening day in October 1984, we have welcomed more than 2.5 million schoolchildren, teens and teachers, free of charge—a commitment that stems from our founder David Packard and our Board of Trustees. It is the largest free-admission education program of any aquarium in the nation and is a hallmark of our institution.
  • Demand for our free education programming has continued to grow. Limited classroom space in the main aquarium meant fewer than half of the 80,000 students who visit annually could participate in programs led by our staff educators. Research shows that in-depth experiences with aquarium educators have greater impact on student learning than self-guided tours alone. Interest in the teen leadership and teacher professional development programs is also greater than we could accommodate. Before completion of the center, teen programs could accommodate fewer than half the qualified applicants each year.
  • The Bechtel Family Center for Ocean Education and Leadership significantly expands our capacity to deliver a robust suite of education and youth development programs.
    We’ll now be able to:
    • offer experiential programs to every visiting school group
    • double the number of teens participating in environmental science and leadership programs
    • double our teacher professional development programs

General Dimensions of the Center:

  • 25,500 square feet
  • Three full floors plus a fourth floor conference room with exterior roof deck and a roof garden

Notable Features:

  • The building is designed to achieve LEED Gold certification:
    • efficient use of natural ventilation and light to minimize energy usage
    • water systems designed for efficiency and conservation
    • supplemental solar panel and storage battery arrays manage power usage at peak times and serve as emergency power back-up in the event of a power outage
  • Windows incorporate faintly patterned glass to reduce bird strikes by discouraging them from mistakenly thinking the openings are flight pathways.
  • Four learning laboratories include eight 200-gallon saltwater ‘teaching’ tanks. Programming incorporates the use of video technology in each lab to supplement the activity in the tanks as topics are explored in depth.
  • A ‘collaboration space’ provides room for staff educators, teens and teachers to work together in a project-based learning environment – partnering on new approaches that they can take into the classroom and the community.
  • Public gallery space along the Cannery Row street front which will be free of charge.
  • A native plant roof garden will minimize water runoff and also serve as a teaching tool.
  • Landscaped plaza between the building and the adjacent Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail to ease bottleneck effects of school groups mingling and migrating between the Bechtel Education Center and the main aquarium three blocks away.


  • The aquarium is deeply grateful to the many generous members and donors, who made thousands of contributions toward the $42 million needed to construct the Bechtel Education Center. This included a generous lead gift from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and major support from Betty and Gordon Moore.
  • The programs cost $5 million each year and are made possible by donor contributions.

Construction timeline:

  • Originally conceived almost 10 years ago, the project received permits from the City of Monterey and the California Coastal Commission by mid-2016. An existing, unsalvageable structure on the lot was demolished in early 2017, with more than 90 percent of the old building recycled and some materials saved for re-use. New construction commenced that same year after the lot was cleared, and was completed in spring 2019. LEED Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council is expected before we host teens and teachers for the first programs in June 2019.   


  • Mark Cavagnero Associates – San Francisco
    • Recipient of more than 100 design awards, including the 2015 American Institute of Architects California Council ‘Maybeck Award’ for lifetime achievement
    • Notable projects include the San Francisco Jazz building, San Francisco’s Sava Pool, the Moscone Center Expansion and the Oakland Museum of California. In addition to Mark Cavagnero and Kang Kiang, principals, the design is managed by Project Architects Katy Hawkins and Natalie Ramirez.

General Contractor:

  • Blach Construction Company, with offices in San Jose and Monterey. Project team is headed by Monterey Branch Manager Kevin McIntosh, Project Manager Sam Marquez and General Superintendent Mike Harney.

Information about the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation:

  • A lead gift for the Center was made by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, which envisions a productive, vibrant and sustainable California that is a model of success and a source of innovation. The Foundation plays a key role in strengthening STEM teaching and learning in California, and promoting the sustainable management of California’s natural resources.

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The mission of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the ocean.