When I was at Shakopee High School a couple weeks ago to watch some youth lacrosse games, I noticed a new gazebo just off the east parking lot. The familiar rock that high school seniors paint every year with Saber colors and their graduation year sits in the middle of the structure.

I’ve since learned the gazebo was built by students in the high school’s Engineering & Manufacturing Academy, and specifically in the construction management and development class. The Shakopee Alumni Association and the Shakopee Lions Club donated to the project, while some materials were the result of dumpster diving.

“From a materials standpoint, it was really cheap,” said Brett Kaufhold, who’s in his second year as a technical education teacher at Shakopee after spending nearly two decades running his own construction company. “Lumber prices have gone up astronomically because of COVID, which made us do a little scavenger hunting. One of my colleagues had a neighbor who was demolishing his cedar deck, so we claimed the lumber from that. We planed the boards down and cleaned them up from the weathering. That’s what the benches are made from.”

Nail holes are visible in the reclaimed lumber from where the boards had been fastened to the deck, which give it character. The construction includes southern yellow pine lumber, 4x4 pressure treated posts, and reclaimed aluminum railings. The gazebo has a 16-foot radius, stands about 8 feet tall from ground to fascia, and is supported by 42-foot deep footings. It’s a structure built to last.

“I hope they like it there because it’s not going anywhere,” Kaufhold joked.

The asphalt shingled roof has a 4/12 pitch, a sheet metal cap at the peak, and a student-welded backet on the underside. According to a laser-engraved plaque on a piece of wood on the gazebo, about 20 students worked on the project.

“One of the harder challenges was having the rock in the way,” Kaufhold said. “There was no way to run a chalk line straight across, so they had to lay it out from perimeter measurements. We never moved the rock. We built around it.”

The students, who spent the first half of the semester building a custom shed, handled every part of the process. They designed, refined the design, determined material costs, created a timetable, and built the gazebo. Kaufhold said the project took eight weeks from design through construction, with a day and a half to spare.

Cutting angles in the lumber for the eight-sided structure and making precision cuts for the rafters also posed challenges.

“Watching the kids contemplating compound cuts, seeing them thinking, ‘How do I do this?’ and then working through it was fun,” he said. “All of the rafter stringers have compound cuts.”

The drafting experience was similar to what students would receive at a technical school like Dunwoody College of Technology, Kaufhold said. Using tools to build the gazebo gave students hands-on, real-life construction experience they can take into careers after high school.

“If you can build an octagon gazebo, you can build almost anything,” Kaufhold said. He’s hopeful the experience will inspire some students to consider a career in the trades.

“The whole point was to make this a showcase for the class and maybe we can get some of these kids out into the community building decks or working construction,” he said. “Any time you can get them doing something and getting them out of the school building, most of them absolutely love that. I don’t know how many of them will end up working in the trades, but hopefully some will because the trades really need them.”

Superintendent Mike Redmond told me the project is a great example of different entities like the Alumni Association and the Lions Club coming together to provide students with a practical learning experience.

“We’re uniquely situated with the Academies of Shakopee because we have a lot of amazing partnerships,” he said. “When you’re trying to create real-life learning, you don’t have all the answers inside the school, so these partnerships and the community involvement provide us with support, which is incredibly important, and also provides us with different perspectives on how to find value and find great learning opportunities for students.”

Each year’s students share the camaraderie of spray painting the rock. The gazebo adds a different dimension to visiting the rock, Redmond said.

“From my vantage point, it’s a way to connect the present with the past and with the future, and honor some of our traditions that make a community special,” he said. “Every community has their own special traditions. Some are similar. We’re not the only school with a rock, but what it represents is the shared norms and expectations with students. It’s more than just putting paint on a rock.”

Brett Martin is a guest columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.