(This story was first published in the June 6, 2013 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Gwen Stanley
READING — Wiping away sweat from the first truly summer-like day this year, a dedicated group of Reading residents took an important step Saturday in bringing their vision of an outdoor classroom and community pavilion to life.
Behind Reading Elementary School sits about four acres of expanse; green, as far as the eye can see.
A meandering garden, tended by students and staff, separates the school from the newly-raised structure that will soon get a floor and roof to finish it off.
The simple 30-by-40 foot, timber frame pavilion made of hemlock beams will serve as both an outdoor classroom and a space for the wider community to socialize and enjoy the greater outdoors.
Lisa Kaija, who works at RES as an art teacher, has been heavily involved with a group of residents and parents who’ve been working for several years to create something that could serve as a communal space — something in addition to the small playground in back of the school.
Back in 2007, the group took the step of changing their name — and their purpose — from the playground committee to the Reading Community Recreational Space Committee. They approached both the town’s Selectboard and the school board with their frustrations, as well as potential solutions.
It wasn’t just that the existing playground needed replacing, Kaija said. It was that something was missing.
“People wanted a gathering place, a place to walk. At the time, administration at the school wasn’t super open about the idea of having something like that nearby,” she said.
In January of 2009, Kaija and Reading resident Ray Pentowski submitted a grant proposal to the Vermont Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation for $9,500. The proposal, Kaija said, included a forest walking trail with a kiosk and a footbridge, and the community pavilion. The proposal was accepted in June of that year.
Meanwhile, part-time residents Andrew and Christine Hall had offered to sell a parcel of land to the town for a dollar, to be used for a walking trail. Work began on the trail in June of 2011, when the entire trail loop was excavated and surfaced over the course of two trail work gatherings for National Trail Day. In a matter of about two months, however, flood waters from Tropical Storm Irene would put a bit of a roadblock in their way.
“Things were starting to happen, and then Irene came,” said Kaija. “It didn’t totally destroy our trails, but destroyed part of them.”
Not to be deterred, the group held several post-flood work days, repairing damage done to a culvert near the trail and firming up plans for a kiosk, built by Steve Douville, to be installed along the trail.
The result of all this is what Kaija and others see as a testament to Reading’s investment in an outdoor area, including the trails and the pavilion, that will serve the school as well as residents of all ages.
When it came time to talk materials, the decision was made to keep it all local.
Richard Windish, a member of the RCRSC as well as a former president of the Green Mountain Club, recommended local builder Mat Wels for the job.
“The beams were cut right here in town, at Bill Sawyer’s place, on his father’s land. If you look at the structure from the viewpoint of the school, just over top of the structure — that’s his father’s land,” Kaija said.
The beams are simply constructed, but Sawyer made it even easier for the group of volunteers to get the structure up by cutting them to be slipped into place, almost Lincolnlog style. Pegs were fit into place after holes were drilled. Each push of the beam was helped along by slinging a rope around it and pulling with a tractor.
Kaija said she likes to emphasize the “outdoor classroom” part of the name.
“It’s so close to the school; we know they’ll make good use of it,” she said.
Reading Elementary School Principal Dr. Lou Lafasciano said he has no doubt that the school will find many uses for the space within its curriculums.
Lafasciano said that the effort put into the pavilion space was just part of an drive by the school and town to better utilize existing resources and organize for new ones.
“This is a combined effort of many people,” Lafasciano said as he squinted into the afternoon sun. One man pointed out that the thermometer was reading 93 degrees. No complaints were heard, though, and the group pushed through to see that all main timber bases were up and securely resting in the supports made of cement and steel.
Shiri Macri, another resident who’s been active in bringing about a communal space near the school, said that eventually a new playground will also be in order.
“We didn’t want (the new playground) to be like the iron traditional monstrosities,” Macri said as she took a break in the shade near the school’s existing playground.
“More like a playscape,” she said. “We’re actually using the same company that Woodstock (Elementary School) is using.”
After the final timber bent was secured into place Saturday afternoon, the tired group paused and checked out their work.
“Look at that…it’s really coming together,” Lafisciano said.
A group of Reading residents worked last weekend to start construction, setting up the timber frame of a new community pavilion and outdoor classroom.
Gwen Stanley Photo
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