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St. Peters, SCC overcome hurdles to partner on outdoor classroom

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Jack Gettemeyer Park [Editor’s note/correction: The image featured in this story in print in the April 8 edition of Mid Rivers Newsmagazine was of the new College Meadows Park, an 80-acre park development situated on the campus of St. Charles Community College, will be dedicated during a ribbon cutting ceremony Monday, April 20 at 4:30 p.m. Mid Rivers regrets this error.]

A plan to develop outdoor classroom facilities for college students at a St. Peters park has shifted to offering an educational opportunity for the general public.

The St. Peters Board of Aldermen has approved a bill that revises a leasing agreement between the city and St. Charles Community College for a “college demonstration” project at Jack Gettemeyer Park. Instead of an extensive group of improvements that would have been used for outdoor classes, the college now plans on developing a planted area, on 20 acres of the park, that will feature four different areas of Missouri plants and mulched paths. Signs will describe the plantings and “how nature renews itself,” according to the ordinance.

The 90-acre park is located between the Rabbit Run and Woodland Sports parks near Mid-Rivers Mall Drive and Willott Road. The park was acquired by the city in 2006 and has a walking trail that connects with the two other parks and a bridge across Dardenne Creek.

In 2009, the city and community college agreed to a $1 a year lease arrangement that would allow the college to develop outdoor classrooms in the park. Plans called for developing space for outdoor classrooms and an astrological observatory, as well as plantings of native Missouri plants. Hundreds of students were expected to use the park for ecology, botany and other classes.

“Reality set in when the cost estimates started to come in,” said John Booksaver, dean of business, science, education, math and computer science at the college. Booksaver told the board at its Feb. 26 work session that the estimates were four or five times what the college had allotted for the project.

The project would have been funded with proceeds from the then-proposed sale of MOHELA, also known as the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, which were distributed among colleges and universities in the state.

When the original sale plans didn’t take place, the project stalled. The observatory was placed on the college campus and staffing and curriculum changes led to cuts in ecology and botany classes.

Booksaver said the estimated 200 of 240 students who would have used the outdoor classroom were no longer taking those classes. But the college and the city did not want to give up on the project.

Booksaver said the new project could start next fall with a controlled burn of the 20 acres and removal of wood and other debris at the college’s expense. Students would do much of the work, including developing four quadrants with Missouri plants and laying out the mulched paths.

The college and city would work together on signage that would be erected in the spring. A year later, the city would be asked to mow some of the area, which is part of the process for managing the plants. Signage also may be replaced as the native plants grow, Booksaver said.

City officials thanked the college for the project.

“What a great partnership,” said Alderman Dave Thomas (Ward 1). “I’m really glad you guys have found a way to make this happen.”

Booksaver said this could be the first of other collaborations between the city and college.

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