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Trees removed from Downtown Mall provide hands-on learning for students

The dead and diseased trees removed from the Charlottesville Downtown Mall earlier this year are getting closer to being turned into usable wood, thanks to students at Community Lab School.

A design class at the public charter school in Albemarle County is building a solar kiln, a “greenhouse for drying wood,” that will get the logs ready to be processed in a month or two – instead of the year it typically takes.

“This is inherently a community-based project,” Eric Bredder, who teaches the design class, told The Daily Progress on Friday. “We are taking logs that were problematic on the Downtown Mall and just giving them a longer life cycle by now milling them.”

From there, the wood could be turned into a number of projects, including benches and community art.

“I might come up with something and maybe I can build it myself,” Community Lab junior Sanuthi Amarasinghe said.

Folks with the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture helped the class design the kiln.

“We are really excited about there being a kiln here at a local high school,” Andrew Spears, a lab technician at UVa’s architecture school, told The Daily Progress. “There have already been some sawmilling demonstrations at other local high schools, but they don’t have the infrastructure to go ahead and dry that wood all the way to a point where it’s useful for them.”

Teachers and students on Friday both said building the kiln and drying the wood was valuable for learning.

“The biology kids are coming out here, they’re going to look at the cells of the trees before, during and after they go into the solar kiln,” said Rebecca Hostetter, a biology teacher and International Baccalaureate coordinator at Community Lab.

Then, the students will study the effects of temperature and humidity on the wood over time, Hostetter said.

“We’re going to learn a lot,” said Miles Veerhoff, a junior.

The students started building the kiln on Thursday and said there was a chance they could finish the project by the end of the day on Friday.

“I feel really proud of ourselves,” Amarasinghe said. “It was really hard. … We did really well.”


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