A learning space for all: outdoor classroom nears end of construction

The frame of the outdoor classroom, currently being constructed, sits in the shade. Construction is set to be completed during this week. It will have capacity for 30 students, and will be wheelchair accessible by its completion. PHOTOS BY BRENDAN LOONEY

Blake Licata I Staff Writer I blicata@smcvt.edu

Construction for the new outdoor classroom at St. Michael’s College is nearing completion and is set to be finished within the next week. With a picnic-pavilion style structure, this outdoor learning space is located in the SMC natural area across the street, just a 10 minute walk from the college’s academic buildings. 

The design of the 35 by 30ft classroom includes wood flooring, a roof, pillars, a dry erase board and a south-facing wall to provide shade during mid-day. It can comfortably fit up to 30 students. In addition the outdoor classroom is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). With a parking spot for those who need to drive to the natural area, as well as an ADA approved ramp, this outdoor space is accessible for wheelchair users and those with limited mobility can take advantage of this space, according to Declan McCabe, Biology professor and chief Natural Area steward. 

“We’re trying not to duplicate a typical classroom in the woods,”  McCabe said. McCabe, in collaboration with other faculty members, administrators, and the Facilities team brought this project to life. The design concept was developed by Joel Ribout, the chief of Facilities, while McCabe led the permitting process.

The idea of this outdoor classroom began circulating through a team spearheaded by Declan McCabe in 2018 with the declaration of the college’s natural area. After receiving a Wetland Reserve Conservation Easement, and approval from the school, the construction phase for this project began in April and is set to be completed within the next couple of days. 

The intention for this classroom is for it to be used as not just a science classroom, but for any department looking to spend time learning in nature. “We don’t want to restrict it to scientists,” McCabe said. “Art classes will use it, education will use it for story walks, athletes will use it when they want to work out. We have no intention to restrict this in any way. I don’t see this being like a typical classroom and certainly not like a typical science classroom.”

Brain Collier, Associate Professor of Fine Arts: Art & Design, said he plans to use the new classroom. “I will likely use it for my Art & Ecology class I teach each spring since we often do work in the SMCNA,” Collier said in an email.

Additionally, members of the college community are invited to participate in a time capsule with items that represent St. Michael’s College in 2023. Items are to be dropped off in a bucket outside of McCabe’s office (Cheray 302C). People are welcome to write notes, drop off objects, or any other items they would like to contribute to this time capsule. Once it is determined how many items are to be a part of this time capsule, a box will be placed somewhere within the structure of the classroom. 

Anna McNulty ’25, an environmental science major, said she is looking forward to using the new space. “I’m excited for the potential to actually experience the things that we talk about in our classes and I’m glad that it’s giving classes a space to go besides out in the quad. I hope that it gives classes from other majors the opportunity to use it and get outside,” McNulty said. 

The outdoor classroom will act as a base of operations for people to have a meeting point. For students to be able to disperse from there, complete their tasks, and have a common space to return to. “I’m excited to take advantage of a fresh new learning experience outside where I can take my learnings from my photography classes and apply them in this outdoor space,” said Digital Media and Communications major Casey Arsenault ’25.