By Trina Ortega
Sopris Sun Correspondent
As students at Crystal River Elementary School (CRES) returned to classes this year, they were full of “oohs” and “aahs” when they saw the new amphitheater-style space on the western edge of the campus.
Over the summer, a group of parent volunteers and valley professionals designed and constructed the school’s 750-square-foot outdoor learning space that has four rows of concrete seating on a large concrete pad next to the town’s historic ditch system. A steel structure defines the edges of the space and provides shade. The outdoor classroom can seat 30-40 children. CRES held a ribbon-cutting event prior to Back-To-School events on Tuesday.
Members of the Parent Teacher Organization took charge of the project after the school was awarded a $5,000 Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant.
“After the school was awarded the $5,000 Lowe’s grant, the families sent out a survey to the teachers asking how/if they would use an outdoor learning classroom, and the response was 100 percent positive so we went forward with the project,” according to Cresta Stewart, who is on the PTO and has two children at CRES.
The PTO began meeting with local construction companies and engineers in May, and the group broke ground in early August. Although the key parts of the structure were complete before classes resumed, the PTO spent the last couple of weeks putting on the finishing touches, such as sealing the gravel-based seating and replanting sod.
Stewart estimates that the project should have totaled $35,000 in construction and materials, but cost only $7,000 due to community support. It turned out to be a true family effort.
“Travis Stewart with Casey Concrete and Western Slope Materials, Nic Lough with Ridge Runner Construction and Tim Fenton with Gallegos Corp. spent endless hours in August making this project come to life in under 30 days,” Stewart said.
Casey Concrete provided the concrete and seating blocks, Ridge Runner took the lead on framing, roofing and lay out, and Gallegos Corp. prepped, formed and finished the slab. Those three families worked together to complete the landscaping.
Bill and Ty Rice of Industrial Repair Maintenance Welding (IRMW) donated all of the steel. Other sponsoring companies include, Valley Lumber, Western Slope Materials, Coldwell Banker/Mason Morse, and KL&A, Inc.
Cassie Cerise said the school district has been easy to work with. Now that the structure is up, she says, the school can make embellishments into the future.
“I hope that it morphs into something more. We put it next to the ditch so it’d be by water. Someday maybe there will be fruit trees and food gardens out here. Who knows? I think there’s a lot of potential,” Cerise said. “Now moving forward, it’s this blank slate. So much of it depends on the teachers, what they use it for and envision.”
Autumn Lough, who has two children at CRES, says her family invested so much because they are passionate about the school. “Anything that I can be a part of to improve where they go to school and where they learn, I want to try to do,” she said, calling the outdoor classroom an asset because it offers a change of scenery for both the students and the teachers.
Principal Matthew Koenigsknecht agreed, stating that the space is “gorgeous and perfectly set up to be yet another tool for our teachers as they work to ensure that all of our students develop the enduring knowledge, skills and character to thrive in our changing world.”
“In making this idea into a reality, the parents and CRES community have proven, once again, what is possible when people come together around a common goal,” Koenigsknecht said. “We are so thankful to have this amazing new space and for the people whose passion, perseverance and creativity made it all happen.”
Published in The Sopris Sun on September 17, 2015.