Student landscaping team builds outdoor space for local Stormbreak house

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Landscape design and landscape construction classes in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences are known for their incredible community projects. But with this year’s undertaking, the courses have gone above and beyond.

Led by Martin McGann, associate professor of landscape contracting, and Dan Stearns, J. Franklin Styer Professor in the Department of Plant Science, a team of Penn State landscape contracting students is working to restore the outdoor space of Stormbreak, a halfway house for girls in State College. The group of seniors and juniors, recruited from the professors’ senior landscape design and landscape construction 1 classes, started the project after receiving a grant from a private donor. After their project was approved, they interviewed their clients and crafted several conceptual plans. The plans then were presented and a final selection was made.

The Stormbreak house is a girls group home that provides dependent and delinquent girls ages 12 to 19 with the opportunity to re-engage themselves in their own lives, according to the organization's website. Through highly structured and nurturing programs, group counseling and community experiences, the girls develop their moral reasoning skills and learn self-control.

As part of their project, the students are hardscaping the front and rear yards of the house. This includes adding new retaining walls, paver walkways, a patio, a rain garden, privacy fences and a new trash enclosure.

“This project has been incredibly fulfilling for me,” said Harrison Fritz, a senior landscape contracting major and horticulture minor. “Last year, we built vegetable gardens, which was fun, but this year we are filling a real need in the community. It’s been very rewarding.”

Taylor Souders, a senior landscape contracting major from Limerick, Pennsylvania, also was touched by the work. “We’ve been working with the Stormbreak house since the fall, and we’ve connected with the girls on a personal level,” she remarked. “It is great to be able to give them a space to relax and enjoy.”

In addition to their contributions to the State College community, the students have found the project to be an enriching out-of-classroom experience. They have gained valuable insights into the construction process and learned how to effectively implement their designs.

“There’s definitely a learning curve from design to implementation," said Evan Bertig, another student involved with the project. “We have to work through all the unexpected issues that arise, which has been a different experience. However, it still has been fun going from paper to the real world.”

“I’ve really liked applying our coursework in real life,” said Souders, who, along with Fritz, plans to work for Pickel Landscaping after graduation. “Earlier, we had to take a class on bidding and estimating, but now the numbers mean much more than they did in class.”

The group, which finishes its role in May, is sad to leave construction early. For now, though, everyone is simply enjoying the ride.

“At the end of the project, we will all be able to look back on our work and feel proud of everything that we did,” said Fritz. “I can’t wait to see the finished product, knowing that we actually brought it to life.”

For more information about senior landscape design and landscape construction 1, visit the course pages.

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Last Updated May 09, 2017