NCCC, PSC partner on outdoor classroom

Oct 12, 2017 | News

Students and faculty from North Country Community College and Paul Smith’s College have finished construction of an outdoor classroom at North Country’s Saranac Lake campus, a project that’s further strengthened the partnership between the two Adirondack institutions.

Located on a quiet hill behind Hodson Hall, the outdoor classroom features a large lean-to and a half-dozen long pine benches. All the timber for the project was cut from Paul Smith’s College property.

Image on the outdoor classroom; lean-to and benches“An outdoor classroom is something we’ve wanted to have on campus for a long time, and it’s been great to collaborate with Paul Smith’s College to make it happen,” said NCCC biology professor Dr. Judy Steinberg. The project is a natural for Paul Smith’s, where students and faculty built an outdoor classroom on campus several years ago.

Steinberg said members of the college’s Environmental Club came up with the idea for an outdoor classroom a few years ago. She credited a husband and wife who have ties to both colleges with getting the project moving: Bob Brhel, who recently retired after a 31-year teaching career at Paul Smith’s, and Jan Brhel, the former assistant to the president at North Country.

“Through the association with Jan, Bob and Judy, we got involved and came up with a plan to advance the idea Judy and her colleagues had created,” said Dave Simmons, academic support staff in the Paul Smith’s College Forestry program. “We just thought it was a great project we could work on together.”

Last year, work study students at Paul Smith’s cut cedar posts and Brhel and Simmons milled the pine boards for the benches, which were installed by volunteer work crews from both colleges.

The lean-to construction took place over one day this fall. A Paul Smith’s crew hauled the logs to the site, and students from both colleges worked together to peel the bark from the logs, cut them to size and move them into place.

Although some of the students involved have construction backgrounds, it was a new experience for many others, like Paige Hart of Tupper Lake, who is studying environmental science at North Country.

Creation of the outdoor classroom“I’ve never done anything like this before, so it’s a lot of fun,” Hart said. “I think it will be cool for our campus to have a lean-to and outdoor classroom. It would be a great place to take my Adirondack biology course, or just a quiet place to go and study.”

Steinberg said she thinks the outdoor classroom will be very popular. It can be used by faculty and students in any program at the college, she noted.

“For Paul Smith’s, I think it shows the students here a little bit of what we do outside of the classroom, and how that’s a part of being a Paul Smith’s student,” Simmons said.

Both Steinberg and Simmons said the project continues a strong partnership between the two colleges, which have agreements in several academic programs that allow North Country graduates to transfer to Paul Smith’s to complete their bachelor’s degree. Earlier this year, the local colleges signed another agreement that allows NCCC students to pay state-level tuition rates to continue their education at Paul Smith’s.

About North Country Community College
As the only public college located in the Adirondack Park, North Country Community College provides educational, cultural and recreational programming to a 3,500 square mile service area with 90,000 inhabitants. The College maintains three campuses in Saranac Lake, Malone and Ticonderoga, New York; an extensive high school-based academic partnership; and online course offerings. North Country Community College is part of the SUNY (State University of New York) system. With 64 unique Colleges and Universities, SUNY provides learning environments for every type of student, every stage of life, and every kind of passion. For more information, visit

About Paul Smith’s College
At Paul Smith’s College, it’s about the experience. We are the only four-year institution of higher education in the Adirondacks. Our programs – in fields including hospitality, culinary arts, forestry, natural resources, entrepreneurship and the sciences – draw on industries and resources available in our own backyard while preparing students for successful careers anywhere. For more information, visit



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