Outdoor classroom rededicated
PHIL CAMPBELL –More than 16 months since the April 27 tornado ripped through their town, Phil Campbell Elementary School students and other in the community officially rededicated a piece of their school campus that had been demolished by the 200 mph winds.
The PCES outdoor classroom, which was rededicated on Tuesday, received a much-needed facelift thanks to a $2,000 grant provided by the Northwest Alabama Resource Conservation and Development Council (RC&D).
The grant was administered by the Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District (S&WCD), who was in charge of the outdoor classroom renovation.
Beth Rhea, who works with Franklin County S&WCD, was placed in charge of the project and she enlisted the help of her husband, Barry.
Together the couple and others in the community began the task of replacing the roof on the gazebo that was ripped away and the plants and trees surrounding the area that were uprooted and destroyed.
“I didn’t know about the outdoor classroom until seven years ago when my son, Tyler, passed away and they asked me if I wanted to plant a tree here,” Barry Rhea said. “But I know this place is really used by the kids and it’s something they enjoy coming to so when Beth asked me to help, I knew I wanted to.
“When we got started, the place was unrecognizable. We wanted to make sure we got it back to a place the kids could come and not have to be reminded of that day.”
Officials who gathered at the classroom on Tuesday thanked the Rheas for their hard work and dedication to getting the classroom restored to its former glory.
“I just want to thank the Franklin County district and Beth and Barry for taking on this project and giving the kids the opportunity to continue learning about the outdoors and enjoying nature in this facility,” said Charlie Meek, coordinator of Northwest Alabama RC&D.
Meek also reminded those in attendance that the outdoor classroom was a dream of the late Howard Grissom, who served for many years on the Franklin County S&WCD board and the Northwest Alabama RC&D council.
“Many of you never got a chance to see Howard,” Meek said to the elementary students in attendance, “but he saw you and cared about your future and he had a vision that included this outdoor classroom. I know this is something he would have been proud to see.”
Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow said he was glad to see steps being taken to preserve a place where young children could learn to appreciate the outdoors.
“Today children are so engrossed in video games and computers that they don’t take the time to play outside anymore,” Morrow said. “There is a lot out there in God’s world that he created and I want them to go out there and experience it.
“I appreciate the work of men like Howard Grissom and [the late] Thomas Harbin and [the late] Larry Jackson who made sure children in Phil Campbell had a place like this. And I appreciate all the agencies involved in making this possible.”
PCES guidance counselor Laura Voyles said this is a special place for the students and it means a lot to have it restored.
“This is definitely a place the kids can come to learn about the outdoors and learn while they’re in an outdoor setting, but it’s also a place of comfort for them.
“This is a great place to go if they’re having a bad day or if they’re feeling overwhelmed, and we’re so thankful to have this important piece of our school restored.”