Neil Haley School teachers and administrators wanted a shade shelter.
Instead they got an outdoor classroom.
School staff said the dearth of shade on 90-degree days on the Northgate Drive elementary school campus in North Manteca could be miserable for students eating their sack lunches on the playground or simply trying to stay protected from the sun during recesses.
The district included a shade structure for the campus as part of the $159 million Measure G projects made possible by voters approving the 2014 bonds.
But when they decided to proceed with a shade structure as a safety and health concern that was the main selling point of Measure G, they also wanted to make sure they maximized the taxpayers’ investment by seeing if there was a way it could be utilized for other purposes.
So five years ago long before anyone started talking about the need for conducting classes outside as much as possible when students start transitioning back to schools from remote learning that was put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Manteca Unified put in motion planning that ended up with the district’s first outdoor classroom at Neil Halfey School.
The project entailed site and concrete work as well as the two slanted roof structures with a galvanized metal look to blend in with the campus by mimicking solar panels in the nearby faculty parking lot. The cost for the shade structure per se was $60,000.
And then the district added a small block building equipped with a white board, electricity, wireless Internet and other teaching needs. The $30,000 “teaching stage” design reflects that of the shade structure with a similar slanted roof.
Manteca Unified Director of Facilities Aaron Bowers noted district educators see it as an opportunity to use in conjunction with art and science classes for projects that lend themselves to an outdoor setting. It can also be used for elements of physical education classes that would normally have to take place in a traditional classroom.
Such multiple use outdoor classrooms are among projects envisioned for the $260 million Measure A bond on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Shade structures are an often requested improvement at elementary sites. It is for comfort as much as a health and safety issue to provide a respite from the sun and heat. They are also in need at high schools where cafeteria seating is at a minimum to provide students protection from the elements.
Given going forward shade structures are being built to double as outdoor classrooms they will provide options for schools as they try to deal with teaching students on campus during the pandemic as well as post-pandemic.
Bowers noted the circular outdoor tables that each seat five for student use that were purchased as part of the $90,000 project would obviously not meet current social distancing rules meaning portable would have to be used for classes conducted beneath such shade structures due to COVID-19.
The colors of the tables — red and yellow — reflect the school colors of the Neil Halfey Hawks and also ties into the new paint scheme that replaced the oyster color of the campus that is all portable buildings expect for the multiple purpose room.
Bowers said it is part of a conscious effort to coordinate colors and designs when improvements are made to school campuses
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org