When teachers in the Oregon School District want students to experience the variety of nature in forests and prairies, they soon won’t have to travel far.

District electors approved the purchase of two parcels of land adjacent to the new Forest Edge Elementary School in Fitchburg at a special Oregon School Board meeting Monday, June 29. The socially distanced meeting was held in the Oregon High School lobby, with a handful of people attending. Due to legal requirements, anyone who wished to vote had to attend in person.

The first parcel – 20.4 acres adjacent to FES at the cost of $450,000 – is planned for a school forest. The other 16.7 acres, which includes a residence at 3016 County MM, cost $335,000 and is expected to be converted into an environmental learning station.

The first parcel was part of the 2016 referendum budget, and the second was covered by leftover contingency expenses from that referendum.

District deputy superintendent Leslie Bergstrom, set to succeed Brian Busler as superintendent on July 1, said the purchases were the result of two years of planning related to the district’s long-term vision for outdoor learning and environmental education.

“It’s not difficult to imagine the hands-on learning experiences that can take place in a school forest that contains both old growth forest and prairie, and a natural water source,” she said. “This is a learning opportunity for pre-K through 12, (and) it won’t just benefit students in the school now, it will benefit students perhaps for generations.”

Begstrom said the purchases are in line with the district’s 2018 policy on environmental sustainability in the district. She backed that up by reading a brief excerpt at the meeting:

“The Oregon school district believes it is critical for the future of our planet to develop learners who are ecologically literate and environmentally responsible citizens and stewards.”

Bergstrom said the district had been looking at the property on County Hwy. MM “for quite a while,” and when it recently went into foreclosure, the district purchased it for less than the assessed value, which is $358,100, according to county’s land information website. The 2,400 square foot residence includes a “great room” on the first floor that she said can accommodate four elementary school classes “in a post-social distancing era.” A driveway off Hwy. MM allows for easy bus access to the property, she said.

School board president Steve Zach said some work will be needed to turn it into an environmental center, and that was not included in the price.

“We are working on private donations to secure that, and we’ve got a strong commitment to that already,” he said. “The board is already contemplating a process (to) set up a foundation through the district to fund ongoing operations.”

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.delaruelle@wcinet.com.