Sunnyland Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Association stepped up once again to create an enduring addition to the school grounds. Sunnyland parent Ted Clifton, who runs local home-building company TC Legend Homes, led construction of a gazebo next to Sunnyland’s playground.

Clifton’s business donated about $15,000 in materials and labor to the project. This doesn’t include volunteer labor from parents and community members, including PTA Co-President Eli Vignali.

The gazebo, which Clifton started on Jan. 2, comes on the heels of the garden the Sunnyland PTA planted with the help of church volunteers in fall 2016. Clifton’s 12-by-24-foot structure — big enough for an entire class — can be a place where students learn about growing their own food within view of the garden on the school’s south side. And parents can gather under a roof at the end of the school day while their children enjoy the playground.

The roof will eventually be outfitted with solar panels that can power the outdoor learning space and maybe even provide power to the regional electrical grid, Clifton said. The school in return would see lower power bills.

Sunnyland Principal Lynn Heimsoth sees great educational potential in the gazebo. The payoff, she said, was immediate.

“I was very interested to have our kids see the construction,” Heimsoth said. “Some of our kids are mechanically inclined. This is a way to fuel their passion.”

“It creates another common space and another outdoor space,” Heimsoth added. “Learning just doesn’t happen inside four walls in a classroom.”

Clifton has had preliminary discussions with local contractor Ecotech Solar about how they might be involved in Phase 2 of the project, when the solar panels are added.

The solar-powered space will have obvious energy benefits for the school, but it also will have symbolic value, Heimsoth said.

“I love the visual reminder for our community, of being good stewards of our resources,” she said. “It’s a piece of the Sunnyland legacy that parents will leave.”

That legacy will stand, even after Sunnyland Elementary is rebuilt. Now that voters have approved the Feb. 13 facilities bond, the plan is to build the new Sunnyland on the east side of the school grounds, where the gazebo stands today. That’s OK — Clifton and the PTA thought ahead and designed the structure so it could be easily moved.

Photo: From left, Ted Clifton, Sunnyland PTA Co-President Eli Vignali, and Isaac Howard of TC Legend Homes install the first roof beam on a new gazebo at Sunnyland Elementary School on Jan. 12, 2018.


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