Augustana students will soon have the benefit of learning outside with the addition of a new outdoor classroom on campus. The classroom will be ready for use by the start of fall classes.
An anonymous sustainability grant was given to Augustana which funded the project. David O'Hara, Augustana’s director of sustainability, is leading the project because of the benefits it can provide to the students and the campus community.
The classroom itself is a lesson in sustainability.
The entire classroom is made of South Dakota stone, representing different parts of the state and different geologic periods. These include an orchestra (the “stage”) made of slate from the Black Hills; and three concentric arcs of seats made of Sioux quartzite from Dell Rapids, “Dakota Mahogany” granite from Milbank, and Black Hills slate. Several other kinds of local crushed stone provide a foundation and a wheelchair- accessible path made of packed gravel.
Surrounding the orchestra is a ring made of recycled quartzite cobblestones that Rick Foster of Foster Landscaping (the company hired to build the classroom) salvaged. They used to pave Sioux Falls city streets and were recycled for this project.
Most of the stone is laid dry (that is, without mortar) since mortar wears down with weather. The orchestra appears to have mortar in it, but that is a mixture of sand, gravel, and several other components that prevent weeds from growing up while allowing percolation of rain. The mixture will soften when wet, and then re-firm itself when dry, allowing the floor to continue to maintain its integrity while it settles over the years. Where the stones meet the grass has been kept low to the ground so that it is easy to mow around the stones without chipping the stones or the mower blades. Large stones rather than composites like concrete or bricks were used because stones last much longer without maintenance. The classroom will cost nothing to heat, cool, clean, or light.
The classroom is available for use as a classroom. But it can also be used for theatrical and musical performances, and for alumni gatherings, weddings, baptisms, etc. The classroom will seat about 35 people comfortably. There is space for several wheelchairs on the orchestra as well.