UNIVERSITY PARK - The Centre County United Way's House of Care in State College now has a fully renovated backyard, courtesy of students who were enrolled this spring in a Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences horticulture class.
The students constructed a patio, gazebo, new fencing, a wheelchair-access ramp and a rainwater garden in the home's backyard. Much of the existing shrubbery was removed and replaced with newer, low-maintenance greenery that gives residents more privacy. A vegetable garden also was planted.
The House of Care's new garden and gazebo were dedicated this summer.
The design for the project was created by students who completed independent study courses in horticulture last fall.
Dan Stearns, J. Franklin Styer Professor of Horticultural Botany, and Martin McGann, associate professor of landscape contracting, taught the course and oversaw the project. Stearns explained that students taking the Horticulture 464 Landscape Construction class typically complete on-campus projects but said he was pleased to add a service-learning component to the course this year.
"Some of the home's residents don't have the financial resources to live on their own," said Stearns. "I think it's important for students to be able to see that not everyone lives the way they do."
Andrew Haverstick, of Lancaster, a junior Landscape Contracting major with a design and build option and a minor in arboriculture, was one of the students who took the course. He enjoyed working with the people at the House of Care.
"We talked with them a lot, and it was neat to be able to see who we're working for," he said. "It provided a little extra motivation. I felt like, 'I'm building it so this person can enjoy it.' It was great to be able to know that these people would benefit from the work we were doing."
Students began preparing for the renovation on the first day of class. They were divided into committees to focus on specific aspects of the project, including safety, codes and regulations, tools, layout, materials procurement, and scheduling.
Each week students rotated between committees, and project managers would update their contacts outside of the course on their progress.
"I was really excited about what we were doing," said Haverstick. "It's such a great opportunity for us to get outside of the classroom and actually do the things we were learning about."
Students also met with borough officials and board members from the House of Care to coordinate their plans. Stearns noted that the students appreciated the responsibility of making many of the project's important decisions.
"It was great for students to have the opportunity to put together a project and really see what it takes," he said. "The goal was for them to really understand the construction process and the different steps involved, which are all so important.
"Our students were really proud of the finished product," Stearns added. "And the residents were extremely happy with the result, which of course makes us happy. It was a win-win."
Materials and supplemental professional services were donated by local companies: Pavestone, Scott's Landscaping and Meek's Tree Service.
Assistance with the recycling of demolition materials was provided by the University's Office of Physical Plant.