The half-completed pavilion on April 30. Volunteers worked on Saturday and Sunday before stopping just short of completion. John Terhune / The Times Record

“Adult volunteers needed,” read the flyer. “Bring your favorite tools and we will provide lunch.”

While the students of Phippsburg Elementary School enjoyed a weekend away from the classroom, parents, staff and community members came together at the building Saturday and Sunday for something of a barn raising. The volunteer construction crew erected a pavilion behind the school, which school officials say will expand outdoor learning opportunities for students.

“It looks fantastic,” said Principal Sandra Gorsuch-Plummer. “The staff is amazed.”

The structure, located in the school’s playground, still needs roof sheathing, shingles and some cosmetic finishes, she said. Once it’s completed, teachers will be able to bring classes outdoors so students can enjoy shade and fresh air.

Materials for the project cost about $9,000 in grant funding through COVID relief funds, according to Mary McCauley, who teaches outdoor and physical education. But thanks to help from over a dozen members who contributed their own time, power tools and heavy machinery, the school didn’t pay a cent in labor costs.

“We didn’t pay anyone to come in and do it,” McCauley said. “We were just hoping to do it all with volunteers, and it’s happening.”

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Phippsburg Elementary School has worked in recent years to expand its outdoor learning offerings, according to McCauley. About five years ago, Phippsburg Land Trust helped volunteers construct an outdoor classroom behind the school, where teachers can bring classes to learn science or any other subject.

Phippsburg Elementary School Principal Sandra Gorsuch-Plummer stands near the school’s outdoor classroom on April 30. Teachers can bring students to the classroom to learn about nature or other subjects. John Terhune / The Times Record

“My fifth grade class did this class on tadpoles,” said student Addy Cearbaugh. “We found a bunch of frogs and salamander eggs, and we have some in our classroom now. It gives us a chance to not be indoors all day.”

Research links contact with nature to mental, social and physical health benefits in children, according to the Children & Nature network, a national non-profit.

After two years of pandemic restrictions, getting kids outside is more important than ever, according to school cook Anna Varian.

“They have this anxiety from what’s going on, as we all do,” she said. “But when they’re outside playing and breathing fresh air, they’re outside of the box. Outside, they go back to blossoming and being kids.”

McCauley took the lead on planning the construction, adjusting plans she borrowed from University of Maine research scientist Jack Witham.

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The pavilion is nearly complete, according to Gorsuch-Plummer. Contributed / Sandra Gorsuch-Plummer

Varian, who attended the elementary school herself as a child, tapped into her knowledge of Phippsburg to help recruit volunteers.

“I was able to go down the class list and say, ‘Well, his parent does this, her parent does that,’” she said. “I just know these guys. I grew up here.”

Volunteers like Curtis Doughty and Jeremy Doyle provided huge contributions for free, including a concrete slab at the pavilion’s base donated by Doyle, Varian said.

“That would have cost us thousands more,” McCauley agreed. “But it was all donated time and materials. Just a true part of a small-town community: People wanting to chip in and help out.”

Gorsuch-Plummer, who said the school is still finalizing its plans for completing the pavilion, agreed.

“People have been so generous with their time and sharing their talents,” she said. “It’s been incredible to watch.”


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