North Island College faculty and students are building the gazebo-style structure. Photo by Scott Strasser.

Outdoor classroom coming to Huband Park Elementary

The project has been a collaboration of various community groups, says PAC member

Huband Park Elementary students will get to learn in the sunshine next year, with a new outdoor classroom under construction at the school this summer.

The new gazebo-style structure will feature a timber frame, a peaked overhanging roof with skylights, interior trusses, and a row of south-facing benches for students.

According to Karen Stevenson, a member of the Huband school’s Parental Advisory Council (PAC), the plan to erect an outdoor classroom at Huband has been in the works since 2014, when the school’s teachers went on strike.

She said the strike resulted in the PAC saving a surplus of about $8,000.

“We’re not supposed to carry over too much cash, so we decided the following year… to make use of that excess money,” she said. “This was the resounding [consensus]. Everyone wanted the outdoor classroom.”

Despite the widespread enthusiasm, the project took a few years to get off the ground. Stevenson said the PAC saved any extra revenue it earned from its hot lunch and salad bar programs to put towards the initiative.

The project has a roughly $20,000 budget, but due to community support, will cost far less. Stevenson said the PAC has only spent $2,000 so far, which was mainly put towards the necessary permits and preparational work.

“We have close to $20,000 saved for this building. I don’t think we’ll even come close to spending it because our community has just come together and everyone is throwing stuff at us. It’s been amazing,” she said.

The roof, trusses and all of the lumber for the project were donated, and Stevenson’s husband voluntarily milled the wood at their farm. One of the PAC parents — Rob Laird — also managed to get trades students and construction faculty at North Island College to build the structure for free.

Comox Valley Schools’ District Operations and Maintenance department is also involved with the collaboration.

The next step is to install the roof, which will take place over the summer. Stevenson said the classroom should be ready for the students by the fall.

“I do not have a date yet, but I’d say fall 2018 is the earliest.”

Huband Park Elementary vice-principal Gracie MacDonald said the outdoor classroom will be an appropriate addition to the school, considering its focus on outdoor and nature-based learning.

“We have this beautiful surrounding with trails through the woods and trails down to Seal Bay. This felt like a natural next step, where we can take students outside and have somewhere for them to learn in a dry space all year round,” she said.

Once completed, the classroom will likely operate on a sign-out or reservation system.

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