by Leah Shutes, Published July 13, 2010
The best learning takes place surrounded by tall trees and damp earth — at least, that's the way Jean Noble Parsons liked to do it.
Eastern Michigan University's student construction team, known as Eastern Constructors, thought so, too. The team had the opportunity to obtain some hands-on, real-world experience with the construction process, as well as camp out at the Parsons Center for the Study of Art and Science May 21-23.
The late Jean Parsons' estate is shared by the University's biology, psychology and art departments, and classes offered there are rapidly growing. Thus, more and more students will have the opportunity to study there. There was only one problem: The property only provided one sleeping lodge, which accommodates 12.
New lodging needed to be constructed in order to house more visitors, and it was up to the Parsons Committee to find the right people for the job. So it skipped the Yellow Pages and asked Jim Stein, an EMU professor of construction management and program coordinator, to help out.
Stein agreed and gathered 13 of his (volunteer) students for the project. The crew got a chance to spend a weekend at the Parsons Center and build the new sites: three old, rustic-looking wooden frames, which would be topped with tents and match the style of the rest of the property.
"The work was challenging, but everyone had a lot of fun," said Stein. "There were four international students with us with an age range from 20-to-35-years-old. Everyone got along great and the whole group had a good time."
But the students were involved in more than just the physical aspects of the assignment. Starting from scratch, each took part in the entire construction process, including cost estimation, layout planning, structure design and budget management.
"It was a lot of e-mailing and phone calls back and forth," said Yousif Huballah, a senior from Westland, who helped with the project. "But, we all did some planning, estimation and design. That involved a lot of cooperation and teamwork."
The team brought its own tools and began by hauling the materials — board-by-board — into the woods. The group then had to check the layout plans. After the foundation was laid, the students drilled piers into the dirt and filled them with cement. The last steps were the frame construction, addition of the decks, guardrail placement and stair addition.
In order to avoid flooding of the tents and to create the feeling of being up in the trees, the finished product stands about three feet above the ground. Stein said that the raised platforms also enhance the view.
"It rained all day the first day we were there, so the most challenging part of the experience was getting the first phase of the decks done," said Anthony Duty, a junior from Flint, Mich., and foreman of the project. "We had to drill the post-holes and get the cement and posts in before they filled up with water,"
The project was finished just in time for the Parsons Center open house and dedication ceremony June 5. Susan Martin, president of EMU, and Tom Venner, dean of the College of the Arts and Sciences, made opening comments and dedications. Visitors then got a chance to tour both the new and old buildings, hike the trails and visit the new lodging tents.
"If given the chance, I would definitely do it again," said Duty. "It made me feel good to help improve Eastern Michigan and I could not have asked for a better group of people to work with than the Eastern Constructors and our fearless leader, Dr. Jim Stein."