New school features a bonus classroom – the outdoors

With a wooded backdrop and green all around, the outdoor learning center at the Raymond A. Geiger Elementary School offers a perfect environment for a new kind of classroom experience.

“Kids love to go outside,” said David Bartlett, school principal. “It’s a big treat. This invites a lot of possibilities.”

According to project architect Jeffrey P. Larimer, with Harriman Architects + Engineers, the idea for the space originated as the design for the building, set on 24 acres, was developed.

“As we came close to settling the general arrangement of building, it was one of the points we suggested,” said Larimer, “because of the way you enter, with the glass wall and view to outside and woods. It seemed to hit a good point with everybody.”

The area was left primarily as a green space, “but we always kept it in mind to develop an outdoor learning area at some point,” said Larimer.

After the job was bid “and we knew where we stood financially,” said Larimer, those involved with the project worked with state Department of Education officials and were able to set aside some discretionary funds.

“We mentioned the outdoor learning area, and the department had no issue with it,” he said.

Larimer said that, with the support of Lewiston school officials, a price was obtained, “and after some refining, we came up with a design that fit with the budget line item of around $94,000. We actually were able to get in under that.

“What you see today – a circular area where kids could sit on a wall, with a teacher in the center, like a little amphitheater, forum-type arrangement – is pretty much what we first thought.”

The site consists of two circles, with granite seats in partial circles intended to be able to accommodate three or four classes of students – or up to 120 children. The center area is lawn.

“We bermed it up around back and planted a few new trees,” said Larimer. “We did not touch any trees in the backdrop.”

The space “would be perfect for science and nature-environmental classes. But it could be used for any kind of a function,” he said.

According to Bartlett, “We plan on special programs, guest speakers, little concerts, student presentations – it’s a great space to do that. It’s a nice, airy environment to do many different things in instead of the classroom.”

The staff plans many outside events focused on wellness activities, he said.

“It’s an alternative to the traditional classroom,” said Bartlett. “It’s healthy.”