When Hanger Hall needed to set up outdoor classrooms to safely reopen during COVID-19, they turned to engineered fabric structures from WeatherPort® Shelter Systems.
Hanger Hall: A School for Girls
Hanger Hall was founded in Asheville, North Carolina in 1999 with a mission to create an ideal learning environment for middle school-aged girls. Over two decades later, Hanger Hall remains committed to that mission.
Small class sizes mean that students get one-on-one attention, personalized instruction, and the ability to forge strong relationships with each other, their teachers, and themselves. This whole-child approach is key to helping students discover themselves and meet their personal best.
Hanger Hall’s Approach to COVID-19
Hanger Hall Head of School Jennifer Schoolfield explains that when they had to go remote in the spring of 2020 because of COVID, the hardest part was maintaining those strong relationships.
As such, being able to safely reopen in the fall was a priority.
Staggering students’ schedules was a key element of making this happen. Hanger Hall split students up into two groups, with each group attending class in person two days a week and no overlap between groups. Wednesdays are virtual for everyone.
Jennifer explains that this way, “If someone were to get sick, we can mitigate the spread.”
But staggering schedules and remote learning were only part of Hanger Hall’s plan for safely reopening. They also knew that holding class outdoors would be the best way to increase airflow and prevent transmission of the disease, which would require finding suitable structures for outdoor classrooms.
[Related: Temporary Structures to Help Reopen Schools]
Finding Structures for Outdoor Classrooms
The Hanger Hall facilities committee knew that they wanted to use engineered fabric structures rather than off-the-shelf pop-up canopies because they wanted to be able to repurpose them later on for events such as student art festivals, performances, parent conferences, and even a possible graduation ceremony.
The structures would not only save them money on events that they’d otherwise have to rent a space for, but could also be rented out for the many events that take place in the community.
“We thought it was a solid business investment for us,” explained Jennifer.
Their other requirements for the outdoor classroom structures were that they protect the students from the elements while still maintaining optimal airflow and preserving as much of the outdoor features as possible.
[Related: Outdoor Facilities for Growing Schools]
Outdoor Classroom Structures From WeatherPort
After doing a little online research, the Hanger Hall facilities committee discovered WeatherPort.
WeatherPort structures seemed to meet all of their requirements for outdoor classrooms, including airflow and stability.
“The biggest piece for us was to have them be secure and able to withstand the weather,” Jennifer explained. “In our decision process, that was what emerged: that these temporary structures weren’t going to go anywhere.”
“Weather can be a little tricky here. We’re in the mountains, so there’s a lot of volatility,” she went on. “We have a couple of pop-up [canopies] for our tech equipment that we have to take in and out every day. It has made it so helpful to know that [the outdoor classroom structures] will be okay.”
The facilities team was also impressed with WeatherPort’s customer service right away: “The team was really awesome to work with and appreciated that it was a big investment. Super responsive. Really flexible with us.”
The Outdoor Classroom Design Process
After Hanger Hall settled on WeatherPort for their outdoor classroom structures, the design process began.
The school’s facilities committee worked directly with a WeatherPort building specialist to decide on the right building sizes, features, and customizations. Part of this collaboration included custom branding, which Jennifer says was a “pretty easy process.”
“We played with a couple different options and saw a couple iterations of drawings,” she explained.
Their WeatherPort building specialist also made them aware of timelines so that they could get their order in before an expected rush of other orders. “We feel pretty lucky that we moved forward when we did,” said Jennifer. “It would be a hard decision to be making right now.”
Hanger Hall ended up ordering three outdoor classroom structures — two 20 ft. wide x 30 ft. long and one 15 ft. wide x 40 ft. long. Each of the structures has two of their four side panels left open for optimal airflow, and two of them are branded with Hanger Hall’s logo.
Installing Hanger Hall’s Outdoor Classrooms
A few weeks after placing their order, Hanger Hall received their outdoor classroom structures.
With a lean team of five or six facilities committee members and volunteers, the setup process took just a couple of days for all three structures.
Creating a Sense of Normalcy for Schools During COVID-19
Hanger Hall’s outdoor classroom structures are holding up well. “We’ve had a couple storms with 40 mph winds,” Jennifer recounted. “Everything’s fine.”
In terms of holding class outdoors, it has been a learning experience. Hanger Hall’s advice to other schools: Determine where the desks will go ahead of time.
“We kind of eye balled the socially distant desks and how many we could fit in there. So on rainy days, we’re a bit tight.”
Jennifer also suggests that schools consider the auditory component of being able to project a voice from one end of the outdoor classroom structure to the other. The structures’ end panels helped with this, and the school also partnered with an AV business to deaden the sound from the road and other outdoor classrooms.
When asked if she would recommend WeatherPort to other schools looking to hold class outdoors during COVID-19, she said “100% yes.”
“It’s an expensive investment, but it’s so worth it from the customer service component and the quality of the product. We felt really educated and supported by the WeatherPort team.”
Most importantly, Hanger Hall’s outdoor classroom structures allowed them to get back to their mission of creating a positive educational environment for middle school girls.
“We’re really concerned with being safe during COVID, so the [WeatherPort structures] allowed us to return to our founding principles. I think school is going to be cool again because even students want to be back at school.”
“We’re doing our best to create some sense of normalcy and consistency,” she went on. “We’re so grateful to be able to have these outside options.”
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