Wyatte Damon, a sixth grader at Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris, stands in his school’s new yurt, after he helped set the last piece — a vinyl bubble at the roof’s center — into place. Supplied photo

WEST PARIS — Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris has reached a milestone in its expansion of outdoor education.

A classroom yurt, part of a $250,000 grant through the Maine Department of Education’s Rethinking Remote Education Ventures, has been erected.

Already a model within and beyond the Oxford Hills school district for experiential education, educators at the school said they will use the yurt as an independent classroom and nature lab for traditional classes and the science, environment and ecological curriculum.

Former Agnes Gray Principal Elizabeth Clarke wrote the grant application at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as schools throughout Maine had to close and scrambled to safely educate students amid social distancing and other public health mandates.

The new yurt at Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris. Supplied photo

The grant provided an outdoor education coordinator to the school to assist teachers of all grades in integrating outdoor lessons into curriculums and purchasing gear and supplies to allow students to study outside during poor weather.

Outdoor Education Coordinator Sarah Timm’s task was to to determine the logistics and materials it would take to raise the yurt. It took months longer than expected for the yurt to be shipped, due to customizing it to the school’s needs and other challenges, including supply chain shortages related to the pandemic.


It finally arrived in West Paris over the summer.

“It took several months to complete the ordering process,” Timm said. “We got it from Pacific Yurts in Cottage Grove, Oregon. They worked with me to design it. We needed two doors for fire code and enough windows to provide plenty of daylight, as there is no electricity in the yurt, and placement of them to maximize passive solar for heat.

“The northwest side has no windows, but will accommodate whiteboards for teaching.”

Builder Gardner Waldeier of Waterford agreed to take on the job, with help from adults and students and a friend, Seth Gallant, who wanted the experience of building a yurt.

It took four days to complete: Two days for the deck, one day to raise the frame and one day to add the vinyl roof and sides.

Waterford builder Gardner Waldeier, left, volunteered to be the lead project manager in erecting Agnes Gray Elementary School’s yurt classroom in West Paris. Seth Gallant, top, helps set yurt roof rafters in place last Friday. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

The windows are also made of vinyl and have screens. Everything was constructed using removable screws, making the yurt portable in the event a new school is built at a different location in West Paris.


“Gardner built the frame for the (yurt) deck, and then built the deck last week,” Timm said. “The materials were locally milled. Some sixth graders helped build it. Grades four and five students have also been a big help with organizing materials.

“We created an ‘unboxing video’ that we will upload to our school webpage. In addition to being a builder, Gardner is a videographer. He has filmed the whole adventure and is creating a time lapse of the process.”

Gardner Waldeier, left, and Marcus Hatch prepare Sunday for Erik Arnsten to pull the yurt’s roof dome into place at Agnes Gray Elementary School. The yurt is to be used for outdoor education at the West Paris school. Submitted photo

Timm said even before the lattice wall supports and roof rafters were erected last Friday, some students had begun using it, including spreading out on the floor — and under the sun — for reading class.

Students have been heavily involved in the process, including choosing the green wall and tan roof in a schoolwide vote.

Instead of traditional desks and chairs, teachers and students have opted for floor cushions with lap desks.

Timm has set out a suggestion box so students and staff members can provide ideas on other yurt amenities.

The finishing touches were completed Sunday, with a crew of students and parents coming to help Waldeier wrap up his part of the project.

It is now up to staff members and students to design and furnish the yurt and put it to good use.

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