News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 29, 2013

Indiana State University students break out the tools for outdoor classroom project

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — On a cool spring day that included a little rain and plenty of mud, Indiana State University students Kara Phelps and Nick Flinner cut and drilled boards Sunday for an outdoor classroom project.

They worked alongside other students and community members at the Sustainability House, located on the grounds of the university’s Community Garden in the 200 block of North 11th Street.

The 800-square-foot house serves as an office for the university’s Institute for Community Sustainability. A 1,700-square-foot deck is being built around the house, and the deck will include a 40-person outdoor classroom, or teaching porch, behind the house.

An estimated 20 to 30 volunteers were expected to work on the outdoor classroom project Sunday. The classroom will be used for ISU classes and also will benefit those who have plots in the community garden, said Jim Speer, institute director.

“It’s a space where they can have some shade” or protection from bad weather, he said. A lot of classes are taught on site related to soil, invasive weeds or insects.

The classroom will have a butterfly roof that captures rainwater for use in irrigation at the garden.

Community gardeners also will benefit from a canning kitchen planned inside the house, he said. They can grow produce and later learn how to can and preserve it.

The institute is using grant funds to help build the outdoor classroom and several passive solar greenhouses, one for its own use and additional ones for other educational institutions in the community, Speer said.

Phelps, one of the students assisting on Sunday, is in Speer’s Environmental 460 class that deals with conservation and sustainability. The class requires 20 community service hours, and she’s completing part of those working on the deck and outdoor classroom.

Sustainability is important to her; her goal is to become an organic agricultural researcher and a professor. “I love the idea of the community garden,” she said. Also, the house uses sustainable products.

“I’ve always kept my eye on what is going on in the environment and around the world,” she said. “We are not a very healthy planet. If we become more sustainable, we will become that healthier planet.”

Flinner, an ISU graduate student, hopes to be a professor and teach physical geography someday. He volunteered because Speer is his adviser and “I love to build,” he said.

The outdoor classroom “will be a really good learning space once it’s done. It provides an opportunity to get outside and experience what you are learning,” Flinner said.

Sustainability is important, he said. “Not only is it good for the planet, it’s really good for our future. Economically, it just makes sense. Instead of spending all this money on stuff that doesn’t last, you might as well pay for stuff that is renewable,” Flinner said.

Also volunteering her time was Patti Weaver, who voluntarily manages the community garden — which keeps getting bigger.

“I’m here to help facilitate the deck build. … This has been a work in progress for quite a while,” Weaver said, as she shoveled mud off slabs so no one would slip. She described her efforts Sunday as that of a “laborer.”

The outdoor classroom and use of other facilities at the house will be a “definite opportunity” for community gardeners, Weaver said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or