Outdoor classroom pavilion near Natural Area under construction

April 12, 2023

A computer rendering by Joel Ribout, director of Facilities, shows the general type of structure envisioned for the outdoor classroom, though the end result likely will not look exactly like this. (courtesy Joel Ribout)

Construction began recently on an outdoor classroom in the Saint Michael’s College Natural Area that will be a picnic-pavilion style structure with flooring, a roof, pillars, and a south-facing wall to block the mid-day sun.

“We intend to provide a single essential piece of instructional technology – there will be a dry erase board,” said biology Professor and chief Natural Area steward Declan McCabe, who is excited that the structure’s foundation was laid this past Friday, April 7.


Declan McCabe

Related initiatives to the project are a new crosswalk between Hoehl Welcome Center entrance and the Merrill Cemetery as a safe spot to cross over Route 15 for anybody using the Natural Area — in place thanks to the efforts of former Public Safety Director Doug Babcock. Additionally, a student hopes to place a “time capsule” into the structure soon.

Originators of this outdoor classroom project are McCabe and fellow faculty members who use the area along with administrators and the Facilities team. Joel Ribout, the Facilities chief, came up with a design concept, and McCabe initiated the permitting process, which is close to complete.

They chose the site by the solar array “to be far enough downhill so that classes will not be disrupted by traffic noise and close enough that students can get there within a 15 minute walk from the academic buildings,” McCabe said.


The crossing at Route 15 from the Hoehl entrance to alongside Merrill Cemetery is the safe way from main campus to the Natural Area and outdoor classroom (Photo by Peyton Edwards ’23)

“The intent is to provide a launching point for classes that take advantage of the woods, meadows, streams, and wetlands in the Natural Area,” McCabe said. “It can be a gathering point for students to be sent out to complete tasks, or a shelter in the event of inclement weather. It will comfortably hold 30 students.”

Parking will be available beside the classroom so that wheelchair users and those with limited mobility can drive up and then use the ramp to access the structure. “All others should leave their vehicles on campus,” he said.

McCabe said one of his students, Aimee Turcotte ’23, recently proposed a time capsule for the biology senior seminar that visits the Natural Area regularly, “and we are extending the invitation to the entire campus.”

Members of the campus community are welcome to contribute small non-perishable items that represent Saint Michael’s College in 2023, he said, adding, “We already have a mask … so please no more of those.”

A bucket outside Declan McCabe’s office (Cheray 302C) will be the site to receive items for the capsule, “You are welcome to write notes, sign objects, or be as creative as you please,” he said. “Once we see how many items are donated, we will craft a suitable box to be installed somewhere in the structure.”

McCabe said the considerable efforts and lobbying of Doug Babcock, the onetime Public Safety chief and current instructor in the Emergency Management Certificate program, resulted in the new crosswalk across Route 15. “Those using the Natural Area are advised to use that crosswalk or the crosswalk at the Limekiln traffic light to access the Natural Area,” he said.


The foundation for the new outdoor classroom is now visible beside the Solar Array down the hill behind St. Joseph Hall. Just cross by Merrill Cemetery, go down the hill on the main road to the Natural area beyond the jug-handle, then hang a right on the dirt path to the site. (photo Peyton Edwards ’23)

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