SACKETS HARBOR — Addressing a shared recommendation made by school and community stakeholder groups, the Sackets Harbor Central School District is beginning the process of turning the dream of an outdoor classroom into a reality. This will be the district’s only designated outdoor learning space and would allow for a safe gathering option.

According to the district’s rationale for the project, outdoor education and play supports emotional, behavioral, and intellectual development.

“As part of the requirement for the American Rescue Plan money for stimulus funding, we were given the charge by the federal government to ensure that we included stakeholders in the process of deciding how to spend those dollars,” said Superintendent Jennifer L. Gaffney. “In our district, we did it with absolute fidelity — we had our instructional group, a student advisory group, a parent group and presented to the board our collective vision. It was so neat because the common theme of all three stakeholder groups was they wanted an outdoor learning space.”

What the district is looking to do is construct a simple pavilion-like structure that may or may not, depending on total cost, include solar panels to be able to have electricity to charge Chromebooks or other things, allowing teachers and students to bring their technology out to the space if need be.

According to Mrs. Gaffney, the district has budgeted a little over $100,000 from the American Rescue Fund money to construct this outdoor open classroom. In order to get any projects through, there’s always a process, which in this case involves putting the project through the State Education Department Facilities Planning, which would need to approve it. The district is working with BCA Architects and Engineers to work on developing the structure of the proposed pavilion. Once the district submits its American Rescue Plan application by Sept. 30 and gains approval from the state, things can push ahead from there.

“Outdoor education and play supports emotional, behavioral and intellectual development,” Mrs. Gaffney said. “The allocation reason for the open outdoor classroom was there’s a section that allows for school facility repairs and improvements to enable operation of schools to reduce risk of virus transmission and exposure to environmental health hazards, and to support student health needs.”

Even without a covered outdoor learning space, the Sackets Harbor Central School District is promoting getting outdoors whenever possible for classes, recess, physical education, team building activities, and anything else that allows for being outside.

“When you’re outside, you at least get to lose your mask and yeah we might need to stay distanced, at least kids can see each other’s faces, they can see expression,” Mrs. Gaffney said. “If I were still in the classroom, I’d probably be setting up outside as much as humanly possible.”

The site of the proposed outdoor learning space, a paved blacktop area between the school and its playground, is where plowing occurs each winter, so salt used to mix with the ground and grass never grew as easily, leading the district to always want to do something to aesthetically improve the space. Whatever structure built will still need to be conducive for plowing under or around.

The proposed pavilion structure will be large enough for a whole class, most likely with picnic tables set up so it can double as a community space, Mrs. Gaffney said.

Once the district’s plan gets approval, it will reach out to the architects who send the plans and the specs to Facilities Planning for approval. From there, it will need to go out to bid for the work that needs to be done.

“We have to be patient and wait is really what’s happening right now,” she said. “You have to wait for everything which is not necessarily how I like to work, but we’re still moving forward and it will happen — pending the approval from the state.”

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