PAROWAN — Students in Iron County recently finished designing and constructing a two-story, mini home that will serve as a ranger station in Bryce Canyon National Park.
The project, officially called the ThunderWorks Housing Alliance, was a collaborative effort involving multiple entities, including Southern Utah University, Iron County School District, U.S. National Park Service and the Bryce Canyon Natural History Association.
“This partnership demonstrates the best of how to innovate and build together,” said Stephen Lisonbee, assistant vice president of the Office of Regional Services at SUU and Gov. Spencer Cox’s senior advisor of Rural Affairs.
“This collaboration has each partner playing a different role, which has been incredible to watch,” Lisonbee added.
SUU engineering students Sarah Estelle Noelly Jeanne and Dallen Peterson developed the design for the 320-square-foot structure, assisted by engineering professor Richard Cozzens.
Josh Anderson, interim director for SUU’s Outdoor Pathways program, said the project involved extensive research and problem-solving skills.
For example, he noted, “Sarah had some really innovative ideas on how to fix the stair solution. She came up with some alternating steps that took up less space. Another one of the ideas was that we could include storage underneath the stairs.”
Anderson noted that as they worked on the design, the engineering students also needed to operate within the constraint of keeping the project simple enough that high school students could construct it.
Instructors Matt Edwards and Richard Cozzens prepare a mini-home building for transport from Parowan High School to Bryce Canyon National Park, Oct. 20, 2023 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News
The task of building the structure fell upon a select group of students in Parowan High School career and technical education teacher Matt Edwards’ classes. The teenagers spent months putting the building together in the school’s wood shop.
Then, on Oct. 20, both halves of the building were wheeled out of the shop and loaded onto the flatbed trailer of a semi truck using a crane. Later that day, the building was delivered to Bryce Canyon, where it will be put into use as a ranger station.
Edwards said the building won’t actually be finished until next spring, when the siding is installed and other finishing touches are made.
Officials called the project a win-win for everyone involved.
Cozzens said that Bryce Canyon officials, including park superintendent Jim Ireland, along with Bryce Canyon Natural History Association director Gayle Pollock, had indicated they needed a year-round field station that rangers could stay in.
“They were talking about an existing project that I guess Glacier (National Park) was doing,” Cozzens said. “And we were over here already working on this. So, between Josh Anderson and Stephen Lisonbee, they were able to make those connections and bring us all together.”
Informational graphic created by SUU engineering professor Richard Cozzens explaining the mini-home project and the involvement of participating entities, October 2023 | Image courtesy of Richard Cozzens, St. George News / Cedar City News
Edwards, who formerly worked across the hall from Cozzens in SUU’s Engineering and Technology department, said that together they hatched the idea of collaboratively creating a mini home that could benefit all the entities involved.
Edwards said he hopes the project can serve as a pilot for future such initiatives and partnerships throughout the state.
Cozzens cited the various partners’ willingness to cut through the red tape as being critical to the project’s success.
“They could have easily said no, we can’t do that because it’s outside of the scope,” Cozzens said. “It was about being able to break down those barriers, think outside the box a bit and find a way to make it happen.”
Lisonbee added that he is also grateful for the level of cooperation shown.
“SUU has a long standing partnership with Bryce Canyon that includes a high level of student employment and engagement in the park,” Lisonbee said. “We are appreciative of the trusting relationship we have with Bryce Canyon National Park and the Bryce Canyon Natural History Association, which create opportunities for students to develop solutions for their needs.”
Added Lisonbee: “Our college of engineering has an incredible Thunderworks space that allows students to put their discipline into action. Connecting these students to the students at Parowan High School was special.”
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