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31 October 2007
JSU Reaches Out to Nature

William Thornton
News Staff Writer
The Birmingham News

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Great Outdoors to be Featured at Little River Field School

Jacksonville State University's newest presence in northeast Alabama is taking shape at the edge of Little River Canyon.

Construction began in July on JSU's $7 million Little River Field School, a cluster of classrooms and learning space at the edge of the national preserve. The building's 30-foot central atrium has been assembled and the planned amphitheater behind the building turned out better than planners anticipated. Classes should begin meeting in the building in January 2009.

"When you've worked on something for 20 years, to see it come together is like magic," said Field School Director Pete Conroy.

Alumni and interested viewers have kept up with construction through a series of YouTube postings, showing the walls going up on the project. The 25,000-square-foot field school will feature, among other things, an environmentally friendly construction design with water conservation measures, geothermal heating and insulation from recycled materials.

The school's design has been Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified, a building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council designed to promote environmentally friendly construction.

Included in the school will also be a 150-seat auditorium, museum, conference space, a gift shop and connections to walking trails leading into the canyon park. Conroy said one feature of the school will be a 20-foot-high rock climbing wall with interactive learning features.

"We were looking for ways to bring about physical and intellectual activities," he said.

The school will also have offices for the National Park Service, which currently is housed in downtown Fort Payne. Visitors to the park will be able to visit the school center to pick up maps and get information about the area.

John Bundy, superintendent of the Little River Canyon National Preserve, said the offices will give rangers a presence at the park and make its operation more efficient.

"A year ago, we were in three separate buildings miles apart from each other, which is not a good way to run a National Park unit of this size," he said. "As soon as they are ready, we will be relocating."

JSU President Bill Meehan, whose educational background is in biology, said the learning opportunities for the center are numerous.

"Students and teachers will be able to walk out the door and demonstrate geological concepts, observe biological flora and fauna," he said. "We'll have a research lab there right on site to conduct classes, build programs, allow school systems to participate. It's just a great opportunity for our faculty, our staff and students."

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