You may have noticed something new on High School Road over the winter.
Gone are kids standing in the snow and rain. In their place are gleaming structures of metal and glass, shelters for those kids while they wait for the START bus.
The modern bus stops are the result of years of work and a few weeks of construction that took place this fall. From idea to design to construction, a team of collaborators came together to create edifices that are pleasant to look at and fill a public safety need.
Teton County School District No. 1 Trustee Keith Gingery said the project began with a question.
“I was driving by the high school one day, and I saw a bunch of kids at the bus stop,” he said. “There were a lot of them, and I wondered, ‘Why are so many kids riding the START bus?’”
Gingery investigated, and he discovered the START bus is an important transportation tool for students. Though school buses are offered — many do ride them — the schedules might not fit with students’ activities. With clubs like robotics or after-school sports practices, students may not be able to take the school bus.
Since START is free around town, it allows kids to construct a schedule unencumbered by the constraints of the school bus. However, it circuits the town only a couple of times an hour, meaning students might wait for a while.
Because we live in the mountains those kids were subjected to precipitation more often than not. With the prodigious amount of snow Jackson receives, they started to run out of room to wait as the plows pushed more and more snow out of the street and into giant piles on the sidewalk.
“There was nowhere to stand,” Gingery said. “It was not a great spot for kids.”
Some of the more well-used START stops, like the ones on Maple Way near the News&Guide office, already have shelters. Gingery went to the town of Jackson and START to ask if either entity would be OK building such structures near the schools.
Both had the same answer: They liked the idea but had no money to contribute. So the district cast a wider net, asking the Wyoming Department of Transportation for the cash. The state transportation agency was in support, Gingery said, and provided 80% of the $151,700 the three shelters cost through a federal grant it obtained.
Even with outside help, district officials worried they wouldn’t have the funds to complete the project, so they turned to what might seem an unlikely source: Jackson Hole High School students. The high school has a class called Fab Lab, a course of study of up to four years that gives students design and fabrication skills.
“The class is designed to introduce students to the process of design,” teacher Sammie Smith said. “We do some projects around architecture, revolving around innovations and inventions. We also do projects on product design.”
First-year students learn basic, entry-level concepts, but those who continue past the first year use 3D printers, laser engravers and other tools to bring their ideas to life. Students have freedom to pick their projects, and when the district brought the bus shelter idea to the class, two jumped on board.
Evan McHugh and Alex Coosaia each started by designing his own shelter, Smith said, but they realized the project could be easier if they teamed up. They devised a structure with large glass-panel sides, big metal beams and a shed roof.
Once McHugh and Coosaia — who have since graduated — had their design they passed it to an architect who could ensure it met requirements for snow load and other technical aspects. The experience of creating something that sees the light of day, rather than just the inside of a classroom, reflects Smith’s philosophy as a teacher.
“One of the things I try to do — more so in years two, three and four — is try to find real-world scenarios, problems that need solutions,” Smith said. “That’s a big focus of the class, to make it purposeful.”
Fab Lab students worked with Jackson Hole Public Art to create some of the reflective moose sculptures that dot Jackson Hole’s highways in addition to McHugh and Coosaia designing the bus shelters. Focusing on projects that might be built around town gives students the chance to see their creations in the world, and tangible results are exciting not just for the designers.
“I had both students’ parents reach out to me and say how excited they were when they saw the foundation going in,” Smith said.
Both students are now at college, but they have something physical that represents the work they did in high school. No one would downplay the importance of a high school diploma, but in the end it is a piece of paper that signifies the end of one era and the start of another.
The bus shelters are something different.
“It was a tangible use of their senior year to see these things come to life,” Smith said. “They have a legacy that they left behind.”