School Forest Facilities
Facilities are essential to effective education at a school forest. However, buildings are more than just places to conduct or facilitate education - they are educational opportunities in themselves. How buildings are designed, what they are constructed of, how they are used, where they are placed, and how they are monitored (electric usage, heating/cooling needs, water usage) should all reinforce your environmental education goals and provide educational opportunities in themselves. In addition, the buildings should specifically meet the needs of your education programs.
Before planning your school forest facilities, you need to ask yourself two questions:
1. What are the facility needs at the school forest related to how the site will be used educationally? You don't need to build a large classroom with dorms if you will be doing day programs with small groups of students. Figure out your educational goals before planning your facilities. Your educational programs should dictate the features of the building.
2. How can we use the facilities to meet educational goals? Helping students understand where our resources come from and how our lifestyle decisions impact environmental and social quality are the greatest goals of school forest education. Teaching about conservation of resources, but conducting classes in a building made of unsustainable materials and using non-renewable electricity sends mixed messages.
A variety of options - from simple shelters to "lodges" complete with classrooms and dorms - exist for classroom buildings on school forests. The most important thing to consider is how the facility will be used. Obviously, a building used occasionally to get out of the elements should be designed much differently than a building used for overnight programs. It is important to consider what programs will be conducted at the school forest before designing a facility. Below are a few examples and photos of education facilities on some of Wisconsin's school forests.
· Boston School Forest: A 2-story education building with open classrooms, storage area, office space, and small kitchen. Outside Photo | Classroom Photo | Risers Photo | Discovery Center Outside | Discovery Center Inside
· Granton School Forest: Classroom Photo
· Hayward School Forest: An open shelter with space for picnic tables. Shelter Outside
· Janesville Schools Outdoor Lab: A "traditional" style enclosed, single room education building. Outside Photo | Inside Photo
· Menomonie School Forest: A modern enclosed, single room education facility. Outside Photo | Inside Photo A | Inside Photo B
· Mercer School Forest: classroom building built by the technology education students. Classroom
· Merrill School Forest: A modern two-story building with classrooms, kitchen, dorms, and two museums a logging history museum and a natural history museum. Outside Photo | Main Classroom | Logging Museum | Natural History Museum | Touch Table | Lab Classroom
· Newman Catholic School Forest: Photo
· Rahr Memorial School Forest: A 2-story education facility designed to fit into the landscape and to utilize passive solar energy. Outside Photo
· Tigerton School Forest: enclosed shelter built by technology education students. Shelter Photo
· Tri-County School Forest: A partially enclosed shelter with solar powered lighting and writing boards on one end. Shelter Outside | Shelter Inside
· Washburn School Forest: A full-log style lodge with radiant, floor heat for year round use. Lodge Outside | Lodge Inside
Restrooms are often an essential addition to facilities at the school forest (anyone who has spent much time with a 1st grader understands this!). The options for restrooms include rented portable restrooms, outhouses (from traditional to "modern"), to bathrooms built into the classroom or dorm. You will want to consider number and frequency of people using them, access (do you want people to go into a building to use the restroom), and location. Options for waste disposal include a vault system (in which waste is pumped out periodically), septic system (percolation into the ground), or composting toilets. Check with your county Planning & Zoning Department or Health Department for regulations regarding restrooms in your area.
· Janesville Schools Outdoor Laboratory: Basic, cement restrooms with a 1,000 gallon vault system. Restroom Photo
· Menomonie School Forest: Basic, cement vault system restroom. Restroom Photo
· Tri-County School Forest: Basic, cement vault system. Students painted the inside to provide a more pleasing environment.
Restroom Photo 1 | Restroom Photo 2 | Restroom Photo 3
· Washburn School Forest: Traditional pit toilets, aka: outhouses. The school forest received these as a donation from the US Forest Service. Restroom Photo
· For information on composting toilets, visit compostingtoilet.org
Trail markers help students, teachers, and the community navigate and explore your school forest. Depending on design and placement, they can greatly enhance or detract from visitors' experiences. Here are a few examples of trail markers found in Wisconsin school forests:
· Boston School Forest: Wood post with plastic numbers "point" marker. Sign Photo
· Boston School Forest: Wood router and painted letter directional trail sign. Sign Photo
· Mercer School Forest: Wood router and painted sign. Also paper and plastic sheet protector used for temporary sign.
Mercer Sign Photo 1 | Mercer Sign Photo 2 | Mercer Sign Photo 3
· Merrill School Forest: This "paper and overhead sheet" is an inexpensive way to create signs. Of course, these need to be replaced frequently, but they may be a good option for quick, cheap navigation signs. Sign Photo
· Tri-County School Forest: Wood post with plastic icons ski trail marker. Sign Photo
· Tri-County School Forest: Double wood post with routered and painted letter directional trail sign. Sign Photo
· Wausau School Forest: Metal post with plastic arrow directional trail sign. Sign Photo
· For more information on materials and placement of trail markers, read this article. ARTICLE
D. Overnight Facilities
Spending the night at the school forest is a favorite memory for many students. Depending on the school forest, some students spend the night in a tent, some in a cabin, and others in a lodge dorm. The best overnight facility for your school forest will depend on frequency of usage and your goals for the experience (e.g., if you want to teach camping skills, tenting is the best option!). Here are a few examples of overnight facilities from school forests across the state.
· Boston School Forest: Traditional, rustic cabins constructed by district students that contain just the essentials - bunks.
Outside Photo A | Outside Photo B | Inside Photo
· Menomonie School Forest: Adirondack style cabins. Outside Photo
· Merrill School Forest: Dorm rooms attached to the main lodge. Inside Photo
A great trail system allows students to utilize the entire school forest; lessons can be more in-depth and memorable.
F. Teaching Areas & Seating
Boston School Forest Campfire: Photo
Boston School Forest Teaching Area: Photo
Weyauwega-Fremont Seating: Photo
Vandalism can be a concern at any outdoor education site, but its occurrence is rare. Don't let it discourage your school forest plans. The attached document provides some helpful suggestions to discourage vandalism. VANDAL