At Dunaway, we believe that structural engineering is more than just designing buildings. It is about creating spaces that inspire learning and foster community. That is why we are proud to be a long-term supporter of A4LE and its mission to improve learning environments. In this interview, we sit down with Sarah Willis, PE an Engagement Manager and Principal at Dunaway, who currently serves as the President of the Central Texas chapter of A4LE to learn more about the organization and the impact it is making in surrounding communities.

Q: What is A4LE’s mission and what made you want to become involved?

A4LE stands for Association for Learning Environments. It is a non-profit organization that brings together professionals from different fields, such as architects, engineers, contractors and educators to collaborate and exchange ideas on how to design and build learning environments that support learning and well-being.

Q: How long did you serve as a board member of A4LE, and what was your time like?

I joined the board in 2019 and served for over five years. As a board member, I partnered with others to create the Emerging Professionals Program. This initiative brings in younger members of the AEC (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) community who are within eight years of entering the workforce.

In recent years, other member of Dunaway’s structural team, Discipline Lead, Makenzie Castongue, PE, and Project Engineer, Kyle Van Hoeck, PE, have taken over where I left off and have expanded the Emerging Professionals Program to be much greater than when I started it. I am thrilled to see how this group has continued to expand far beyond me.

Q: What was your next step toward your role as President?

After serving on the board for several years, I voted in as Vice President for a year. I was then designated as President, which I currently serve as. During this time, I have been proud to lead the Student Scholarship and Teacher Grant Program. We are currently sorting through applicants and choosing our winners for the scholarship right now, which is extremely exciting.

Working with A4LE allows me to advocate for the importance of learning environments, to provide resources and guidance for best practices, and to foster a community for individuals in all stages of their careers.

Sarah Willis, PE, Engagement Manager | Principal
Q: You recently led a tour of Chapparal High School on behalf of A4LE. Can you share a little more about this project and why it means so much to you?

Dunaway provided structural engineering services on Killeen ISD’s new Chaparral High School. Design started nearly five years ago, so being able to share this completed space with others was meaningful. The school includes a practice gymnasium and competition gymnasium, along with a performing arts center with fly loft and lighting decks. On the site, Dunaway designed the concession buildings, dugouts, and 3-level press box that overlooks the field from above the bleachers.

Q: During the project tour, you mentioned that control joints help to control where cracks occur and that they are especially important in projects like Chapparal. Can you elaborate on that?

On this project, there was a lot of exposed concrete. Control joints are cut into freshly poured slabs to help encourage temperature and shrinkage cracking to happen at designated locations. On a project with exposed concrete, this is of utmost importance to place these joints correctly and timely to help control the crack locations.

Q: Chaparral also features exposed glue-laminated timbers in the cafeteria and entry areas, with large learning stairs opening the entry into the cafeteria. Sometimes glulam beams are strictly structural, and looks are not a concern, but they can also be simultaneously an architectural focal point, as well as a structural timber. Was this the case with Chaparral?

Absolutely. Dunaway worked closely with PBK to make the structural elements a feature in the cafeteria and main entry. We coordinated with the architectural designer to provide the aesthetic look he was going for while providing the required structural support.

Q: Sharing unique projects like this with the community makes being part of A4LE even more exciting. What made you want to get involved with this organization?

K-12 is my passion area of design, and I love that these projects give back to the community and impact our kids’ future. Working with A4LE allows me to advocate for the importance of learning environments, to provide resources and guidance for best practices, and to foster a community for individuals in all stages of their careers. Getting to share special projects like Chaparral is just an added bonus.

Let’s Improve Learning Environments Together

As a multi-discipline firm with a focus on education, we are passionate about providing innovative and sustainable solutions for educational facilities, and we are proud to support impactful organizations like A4LE. Whether you need a new school, renovation, or expansion, we have the expertise and experience to deliver quality and value. Reach out to us and find out how we can work together to transform your learning spaces.