The ENP Mobile Outreach Classroom Project

9 Feb

Due to the disruption of the pandemic keeping us from presenting our programming indoors as much as during the pre-pandemic era, we are now creating a new way of conducting our outreach programming outside of the classroom: we are building a mobile outreach education classroom!!

In the spring of 2021 we received the first sizable donation toward this project from Lake Toxaway CharitiesTHANK YOU LTC!!!

We knew we needed more support to make the awesome happen so continued our fundraising over the next few months while searching for a frame on which to build the classroom.

Then, late in 2021 with the help of our friend Mandy, a wonderful past ENP volunteer who is now a park ranger, we located a 16′ Casita travel trailer that we determined would be perfect for converting into our new mobile classroom. We then began a furious fundraising drive to raise the funds we needed to purchase the RV – including a Facebook (Meta) fundraiser and a still-active GoFundMe campaign and yes, we did raise some funds with the help of many of our generous friends and past supporters – but sadly, we were unable to raise the needed funds fast enough to cover the purchase price by the deadline – and then time ran out and we thought we had lost our chance at the RV. Then, a few days after the deadline had passed we received an amazing surprise – an incredible donation from a wonderful new ENP supporter that covered the entire cost of the RV (THANK YOU “A” and family)!! Therefore, due to their amazing generosity, we were able to make this dream a reality and purchase the camper.

Another few days passed and we received several more sizeable donations – this time from a few of our amazing longtime supporters and friends of ENP for many years.

All these, together with all the others gathered in the initial fundraising campaign, were used not only to purchase the RV – but they will allow us to completely retrofit the little Casita camper into the amazing mobile outreach classroom we have dreamed about for so long!

Along with the much-needed donations we also received wonderful and much-needed input from some of our closest friends, loved ones, and supporters of ENP who helped us see the many different angles such a complex project would entail. THANK YOU ALL!!!

We have taken in all their heartfelt input and informed opinions, made many sketches, consulted with many experts (it is always very important to listen to and take the advice of the experts into consideration when making any big decision), and now we are deep in the process of converting this little Casita camper into an amazing mobile outreach education classroom that will serve our Trails Carolina and Trails Momentum Students as well as everyone we meet through our outreach programs in the county and the region!

With the help of one of our most awesome recent graduates from Trails Carolina, (Thank you again A!) we came up with a name for our mobile classroom: The SS ENP NaSA PoD which stands for:

Science Steve’s* Earthshine Nature Programs Nature and Science Adventure Pod of Discovery!

*Science Steve is what my students call me 🙂

We took over ownership of the RV in late December and have been working as much as possible over the last few weeks in the attempt to have it ready for service by Earth Day – Friday, April 22, 2022!

When the PoD is complete it will contain the following educational systems:

Two custom-built Hardy Systems animal habitat pods will be designed and constructed by longtime friend and ENP supporter Jim Hardy. These habitat pods will provide comfortable, heated life support for up to 12 of our reptilian animal ambassadors. They will also be removable for ease of transport to and from the RV.

A microscope station for stream and field exploration.

A field guide library for identifying your finds.

A Little Free Library.

A real-time air quality and weather monitoring station.

A 1780 watt bifacial solar array and Victron Energy power system donated by Bob Harris of Black Bear Solar Institute (Thank you, Bob and BBSI!!!). This system will provide a clean energy supply to all of the PoD’s electronics and systems – including the Hardy Systems habitat pods, and RV systems – this feature will be most important when the PoD is being used for both short term day-use programming and long term multi-day programming at events and festivals where an overnight stay is needed.

A fold-out awning that will allow comfortable programming on those super hot summer days and in light precipitation.

A large flatscreen monitor that will allow the showing of nature and science documentaries in an outdoor setting.

Hand sanitizer stations to keep the germs at bay.

A custom paint job.

And more!

THANK YOU!!!

to everyone who has donated/supported this project so far! You know who you are and you are all truly amazing people! THANK YOU for your generosity and your trust in supporting this project and my little 501c3 – your generosity is above and beyond treasured and your trust is so deeply precious to me and without all of you working together with me to make this project (and all the others) happen – it would have all been impossible.

Now for a photo album of the ENP NaSA PoD project up to this point. I will continue to update this blog with more photos (and soon – videos) as the build continues so if you are not subscribed please do so in order to receive updates.

When we first met.

It is a really nice Casita camper that was renovated by the previous owners to include everything needed for comfortable camping including…

A fully functional kitchenette.

Nice 2 burner gas stove.

Double bed with extra thick mattress.

Working roof vent fan.

Working Dometic fridge.

Nice dinette.

Functioning latrine/shower.

And sink

Custom cabinetry and a working air conditioner!

But much of this would need to change for it to become our new mobile outreach classroom.

On December 31, 2021, we took over ownership of the Casita and toted it home to ENP HQ.

Sadly it is just too heavy to pull with our EV like we wanted to do – but that will change one day when we trade in our Honda Pilot for an all-electric EV pickup and then the package will be complete.

Once safely back at ENP HQ, we began the process to modify the camper into a portable classroom.

The old roof vent had to go…

…when fully open it would have been in the way of the new solar array.

The new vent fan location was sketched out on the side of the RV. This new fan will also replace the vent hood over the stove.

Jim cutting the hole for the new fan – which will double as a unique “kitchen window.”

New vent fan/kitchen window hole. We have not installed any of the windows or the fan due to the cold temperatures that would not allow the sealant to cure effectively.

The stove is history as well. We are dropping the gas in favor of an all-electric system including an induction cooktop for use during overnight events and campground programming.

The Dometic fridge was just taking up space…

…so we removed it. This space will now be used as a solar-electronics cabinet. Our new fridge will be a highly efficient 12-volt chest fridge/freezer stored under the bed.

This is a cardboard analogue of the solar-electronics package that will provide renewably generated electricity to power all of the classroom/RV systems. The real one will be much better looking and far more functional.

The solar-electronics cabinet with the cardboard analogue in place.

Looking into the bottom of the area where the batteries will reside. The cardboard box is a battery analogue – four batteries of this size will fit in this space after we construct a custom support structure to hold them safely.

The vent ports on the backside of the old fridge on the outside of the RV are no longer needed so we…

…removed them and made the holes larger in order to install observation windows that will allow students to view the solar-electronics package as well as help to make the PoD more weathertight.

Looking at the solar-electronics package analogue from outside. The new windows will drop in and cover up all the rough edges and all the exposed wiring will be made safe and secure.

Due to the cold winter weather we have been receiving lately we have not gotten very far with the outdoor work on the conversion of the RV into a mobile classroom. However, we have been working on the design process of how the solar array will fit together and function and we have ordered the components needed to secure and protect the solar-electronics gear. We have also consulted with a local welder who should be contacting us any day now with a quote for the custom roof rack that will support the solar array, weather/air quality monitoring station, and a few other components. We are also in communications with a sheet metal shop about creating the window frames to fit the viewports for the solar-electronics cabinet. We have also received the solar modules and most of the solar-electronics package including the components seen below:

Four Canadian Solar 445 watt bifacial solar modules (panels).

The four new Victron Energy 200Ah LiFePO4 batteries.

The Victron Energy power distribution bus and Battery Management System.

Lots of other components as well!

And this brings us to today.

Currently, we are waiting for word from the welder and sheet metal fabricator. Once they work their magic we will be able to install the solar modules and continue with the installation of further components.

Warmer weather in the early spring will be most helpful and much will happen fast so please subscribe and follow this blog for more updates on this unique project!

We hope to have the ENP NaSA PoD in service on or before Earth Day 2022!

This is an amazing project that will serve to educate and inspire all the curiosity seekers it meets. But to do this thing right – we do still need your support. If you choose to assist us in making this project a reality, this unique mobile classroom will greatly benefit the nature and wildlife conservation, science, and renewable energy awareness education of all of our outreach program participants in the WNC region as well as our wonderful students at Trails Carolina and Trails Momentum who will all greatly benefit from the wonders it will contain while they are in the field on expedition.  Please consider supporting us today.

The construction and use of this unique mobile classroom will be documented on this blog, our end-of-year newsletter, and soon on our YouTube channel.   Please consider supporting this project via the donate link on our website or our GoFundMe page:   www.gofundme.com/lets-build-a-mobile-outreach-classroom

 The ENP NaSA PoD and the Mighty Bolt EV (our primary outreach vehicle) are owned by ENP and used primarily as the ENP company outreach vehicle and mobile outreach classroom.  They will be charged and fueled mostly with cleanly generated electricity provided by the ENP/Trails student-built classroom solar array and NaSA PoD’s rooftop solar array. They will serve as outstanding teaching tools for our Trails students, ENP outreach program participants, and everyone we meet via our outreach programs.

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