University of Idaho - I Banner
A student works at a computer


U of I's web-based retention and advising tool provides an efficient way to guide and support students on their road to graduation. Login to SlateConnect.

Outdoor Habitat Constructed for McDonald Ducks

CAA Wins National Award for Design of Elementary Outdoor Classroom

COVID-19 created a need for Kim Mikolajczyk, principal at McDonald Elementary School in Moscow.

It also freed up U of I Assistant Professor Scott Lawrence and the Design-Build Program at the College of Art and Architecture.

The partnership resulted in a new outdoor classroom for McDonald, hands-on experience with new construction methods for the CAA students, and national recognition for the project.

Timing Is Everything

Lawrence and his team were working on a project for the Moscow Hotel when the pandemic hit in spring of 2020. With indoor gatherings of large groups of people out, the team turned its focus to outdoor projects.

The team contacted Mikolajczyk to ask if she might have any projects for them. She'd recently had a small, dilapidated outdoor classroom removed from the school grounds and realized that because of COVID-19, a larger, more functional outdoor space where students could meet would be beneficial.

“The goal was to get the kids outside as much as possible,” she said.

A stude3nt cuts lengths of framing while others place them into the roof structure.
CAA team members cut lengths of framing while other members place them into the roof structure.

Creative Construction 101

Mikolajczyk met with the team and they started the design process for a new structure. The idea was for the classroom to be a permanent structure, separate from the main building and close to the school garden, where students would not only be able to meet for instruction but could also eat lunch or gather for special events.

When the time came to start building, the team ran into problems. Certain materials proved difficult to find because of supply chain issues, and they realized some of their construction ideas would put the project over budget.

“We had to get a little creative,” said Lawrence.

They worked with a local contractor to obtain discarded sections of utility poles and repurposed them into lumber for the roof.

Custom-made steel brackets were used to secure V-shaped roof support beams, meaning less concrete was needed under the structure because multiple beams were secured to a single concrete footer. This unique design also meant fewer beams were required to support the roof, which resulted in a more open space.

It was cool to watch something being done that you’d never tried before, then going down and doing it. Noah Anderson, first-year CAA graduate student

The roof also includes cedar trim that was bent using a new process where wood is moistened with steam, then placed into a mold to harden and create the correct angle. This trim was used around the roof arches.

“We watched videos about how to steam bend, then went down to the shop and did it,” said Noah Anderson, a first-year CAA graduate student who worked on the project. “It was cool to watch something being done that you’d never tried before, then going down and doing it.”

Most of the material fabrication was done in small sections on campus so no heavy equipment was needed on-site and it could be quickly assembled by the team.

Scott Lawrence

Associate Professor

AAS 313B


Thinking Small

LaRae Tomera, a graduate teaching assistant who will complete her Master’s in Architecture this spring, said the project demonstrated the advantages of smaller projects. Instead of the team coming up with designs themselves and submitting them to the client, which is typical in large projects, she enjoyed working with Mikolajczyk on-site to discuss materials and designs that would be a good fit.

“It deepened the value I see in smaller community projects,” she said. “I was already interested in the adaptive reuse of existing buildings. This exposed me to the design of public-use projects and the importance of collaboration.”

Lawrence, Tomera and former graduate student Brett Carter, were awarded the Design-Build Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture for the project.

McDonald students sit on stumps in their new wooden outdoor classroom.
McDonald Duck students soak up the sunshine and test out the seating in their new outdoor classroom. Photo by LaRae Tomera.

Article by David Jackson, University Communications and Marketing.

Photos by LaRae Tomera, CAA graduate student and the CAA design-build team.

Published in March 2022.


Architecture Program

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2451 Moscow, ID 83844-2451

Phone: 208-885-4409

Fax: 208-885-9428

Urban Design Center

Mailing Address:
322 E. Front Street
Suite 390
Boise, ID 83702

Phone: 208-885-6781

Urban Design Center