SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- A big surprise was in store for students when they return to school following the fall break.

A new outdoor classroom -- the first of its kind in U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii -- was being constructed at Hale Kula Elementary School, here.

Known as the Saving Your Nation's Energy, or SYNERY Outdoor Classroom, it'll feature aboveground gardens, a rainwater harvesting system and curricula that will enhance sustainability programs in fifth-grade coursework.

"The SYNERGY Outdoor Classroom represents a great partnership between Island Palm Communities, garrison directorates, the school and local businesses," said Mark Frey, project director, IPC. "More importantly, it's a smart investment in the education of our children."

The outdoor classroom recently got underway, following nearly a year of planning and with support from Jan Iwase, school principal, and teachers.

School educators are now developing activities and projects that will enhance their current program to teach students about sustainability, using the facility.

At the center of the classroom is an 8-foot-wide, 9-foot-high tank that can store 3,000 gallons of rainwater collected from the school's roofs. Downspouts have been modified to deliver rainwater to the tank that will be used to maintain the classroom's gardens.

The rainwater harvesting system was the idea of Haley Diamond, Clean Water Program, Environmental Division, Directorate of Public Works, USAG-HI.

"The rainwater harvesting system provides a wonderful opportunity to teach kids about conserving one of our most important natural resources, and they'll also learn about the many benefits of reusing rainwater," Diamond said.

Reusing rainwater makes efficient use of a valuable resource by conserving water and energy. Also, used rainwater is good for irrigation, and plants thrive.

Used and stored rainwater is free of pollutants, salts, and natural and man-made contaminants.
Other classroom features include raised planter boxes and an area where students can sit during class presentations and demonstrations. Initial plans for the garden include the propagation of native plans.

Lend Lease established the SYNERGY program to help create awareness about environmental, social and economic sustainability through information, resources and activities. Funding for the classroom was received through a $10,000 grant from the Lend Lease Community Fund. Also, local businesses donated more than $10,000 in materials and 100 hours of labor.