Some students at Central Lakes College in Brainerd don't have to wait long to get their hands dirty. It's "hands-on" from the first day in the Deck, Patio and Pond Construction class.
This Landscape Technology program course and one other, Introduction to Horticulture, put students to work in an outdoor classroom -- the campus.
"We learn by doing, and that's fine with me," said Kathy Edberg of Fort Ripley, a former Potlatch employee. "We have books, but you learn a lot by just having to do something."
Instructors Jeff Dirks and Theri Wasniewski introduced their students to beautification projects that have a lasting impact on the environment shared by more than 3,000 students, hundreds of employees and thousands more visitors to the 75-acre campus.
Dirks said more students are coming for landscape training as part of a national trend of creative "yardscapes" among property owners at home and in business.
"We put them right in there and always seem to have enough projects to tackle while the weather cooperates," said Dirks, who is in his 12th year of teaching at CLC. In the colder months, students are involved in the labs and an expanded greenhouse that doubled in size last spring when they erected the west wing of that facility.
"We take trips to see where landscape materials are produced and seedlings originate, if they're not too far for a day trip," he said. Such field trips include the St. Cloud manufacturing facility for compressed concrete. This popular "paving" material can be arranged in various patterns to suit specific projects.
Students in the Deck, Patio, and Pond Construction class rebuilt a 25-year-old courtyard patio with compressed concrete -- about 3,000 blocks worth.
First the CLC buildings and grounds staff removed the original cracked and crumbling concrete. For two days jackhammers pummeled the original, six-inch-thick base.
Then the students hauled in dozens of wheelbarrows full of Class 5 gravel topped by a similar amount of fine sand. Students had calculated the necessary amount and worked from a detailed drawing that included the pattern in which the bricks, called "pavers," would be installed.
Everything taken out and brought in had to pass through a mere, 36-inch-wide doorway.
"No other way to do it," said Jim Leick of the CLC buildings and grounds crew. "This was a project that needed a small army."
Students in the Introduction to Horticulture class at Central Lakes College spent their first lab day trimming Brainerd campus shrubbery. Shown with a pick-up full of juniper clippings were Jim Larson of Walnut Grove (front left), Byron Howe of Outing, John Rock of Deerwood, Brad Hansen of St. Cloud (in truck), Scott Larson of Montevideo (row behind truck), Laura Haugen of Montevideo, Tracy Ledahl of Baxter, Lisa Blexrud of Outing, Carissa Wilcox of Sauk Rapids, Kristen Goebel of Melrose, John Heise of Easton (back left), Julie Sather of Fort Ripley, Amanda Doescher of Heron Lake, instructor Theri Wasniewski, Jennifer Jaeckels of Milaca, Esther Peters of St. Cloud, Traci Mattson of New York Mills, Kenzie Oehrlein of New York Mills, Alecia Goeden of Verndale, John Jansen of Brainerd and Pam Brichacek of Motley.
The new patio measures 24 feet wide and 38 feet long in the east wing of the Brainerd campus.
"The students are working hard and it's a great project for them," said Dirks.
"We'll stay and finish it," said several students when Dirks announced the end of the class session. The group meets two afternoons a week for three hours.
As light rain fell a handful of students left to fulfill employment obligations. Everyone else "worked overtime." More than a dozen students spent the better part of two days to finish the job.
The college this term designated only a few areas outside for smokers; the courtyard is one of them. The space features perennial blooms, shrubs and small trees growing around a bed of wood chips.
Students in the biology lab and two other classrooms have a clear view of the green space through tinted glass, and others see it from the east entrance and doors at the opposite end leading to a second courtyard.
"Some folks waited patiently to be able to have this space," Dirks said as he surveyed the 1,000 square feet of reddish-brown blocks aligned with a guide string.
Students in other courses also contribute to campus beautification. Improvements come with each convening of classes in Ornamental Trees and Shrubs, Annuals and Perennials, Landscaping for Wildlife, Home Landscaping and Gardening, and others.
A lab associated with the Introduction to Horticulture class features hands-on activity such as pruning junipers on the first day.
Instructor Theri Wasniewski and 20 students combed the campus with trimmers and a pick-up truck and didn't take long to improve the appearance of a significant amount of shrubbery.
On one side of the campus, they snipped the extra growth from yews. Near an entrance on the opposite side of the building, they shaved a sprawling array of dense junipers.
Horticulture graduates leave their legacy at CLC through many projects. Examples include the water garden, a bird sanctuary, retaining walls and deciduous and coniferous tree plantings. Each year students at the CLC Greenhouse grow and sell seasonal flowers and arrangements -- from wreaths to poinsettias to lilies.
In early May, a garden plant and flower sale provides "seed money" for the program.
Upcoming projects include pond construction at the Living Legacy Gardens on the site of the Central Lakes Ag Center near Staples, and a Brainerd campus landscape project located where there once were tennis courts.
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