by John Besser and Bill Mees

Those attending the October CAS membership meeting at Fairview Elementary School heard about plans for a new ‘nature school’ from Mike Szydlowski, Science Coordinator for Columbia Public Schools (CPS).  This exciting facility will be located on a 207-acre tract donated by the Hank Waters and Vicki Russell, located off US Hwy 63 near Three Creeks Conservation Area (see graphic). The land has been donated to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and it will be leased to CPS.

On November 6, we met with members of the project’s planning committee at the site and heard their vision for the facilities and curriculum for the nature school. Preliminary plans call for construction of a school building on the east side of the property, with much of the west side consisting of existing and restored natural communities.

CPS and their partners are currently raising funds for the design and construction of the school building. In addition to the basic structure with several classrooms and a multipurpose wet lab, the partners hope to add features that will make this facility a ‘living building’. Appropriate designs and materials will enhance energy- and water-efficiency, foster health of students and faculty, and harmonize with the surrounding natural ecosystem. Development of the property will also include restored habitats, hiking trails, pit toilets, and a shelter, to allow students to use parts of the property away from the school building.  Construction of the shelter and installation of toilets will allow students to use the property even before final construction of the main building.

The CAS Board of Directors is considering our options for supporting the nature school. We feel that supporting the nature school is a natural extension of our long history of cooperation with the public schools to get students outdoors and to teach them about birds and natural habitats. The board will be learning more about the nature school in the coming weeks, and we hope to bring a proposal for CAS’s involvement to the chapter membership early in 2020.