The Washington County Board of Education is considering closing the center as part of $3.2 million in budget cuts. The 1997-98 budget is $3.2 million shy of the $49.1 million allotment from the Washington County Commissioners.
On Thursday, three first-grade classes were spending the night at the Outdoor Center, sleeping in dormitories and cooking hot dogs. Activities matched up with lessons learned earlier in the classroom.
For many students, it was their first night away from home.
"These boys and girls don't get a chance to come out from the city a lot. So this is really a good experience," said teacher Cathy Thim.
All Washington County fifth-graders spend at least three nights at the center. Activities for older students include Colonial leather and wood shops.
Classes in all grades, even kindergarten, come for day trips as well as overnighters, which makes for a nearly booked schedule, said Gregory A. Wilkes, head teacher at the outdoor school.
"Man, this is my favorite day," said first-grader Matthew Allen, as his class started a nature hike.
"Mine, too," said classmate Anna Whisner. "I don't want to go home."
On the nature walk, students saw where a deer had rubbed off bark from a tree.
They saw how a compost pile works.
They put on blindfolds to simulate how a sightless mole would have to feel its way.
They stopped at an algae-covered pond to look for tadpoles.
Wilkes, concerned about the looming budget cuts, will continue working on next year's schedule, he said.
Schools Superintendent Wayne F. Gersen said the school board could save $227,000 in staffing, transportation and utilities costs by closing the school.
This isn't the first time in its 19 years that the center has been on the budget chopping block. It survived a threat two years ago.
Board member Doris J. Nipps said she didn't like the possibility of cutting the outdoor school, but preferred that over eliminating daily in-school programs like art or music.
The school board hasn't yet voted on proposed budget cuts, which also include $1.32 million for a new elementary school grant program, $130,000 to hire more maintenance workers and $120,000 for elementary school/family liaison services.
The next school board budget work session is set for 10 a.m. Monday in the board conference room.