Imagine transporting a student from the 1890’s schoolhouse at Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek to a heavily populated area in Osceola County, Florida in 1980; where wild turkeys and bobcats once roamed. What they would see would be startling. An earth-covered school, the design borrowed from Southwest American Indian tribes; was being built to save energy. Referred to as “The dirt school, Groundhog or Eskimo Elementary”, the name chosen was ”Reedy Creek Elementary”.
Concerns by parents of the roof collapsing or their children developing claustrophobia; and students envisioning themselves wearing mining hats were some of the early problems faced. And there were the financial issues when it eventually cost more to build than originally budgeted.
When the fifth anniversary arrived, concerns were expressed by the School Board regarding chronic technical glitches and state requirements for large windows opening to the outside. Constant maintenance was needed; the energy savings projected by using solar panels to heat the water and the earth acting as a natural insulator were never realized. The biggest issue came from the unique air-conditioning system, which never ran properly, and maintenance of the grassy, sloped sides constantly damaging lawn mowers.
Reedy Creek Elementary remains but bears no resemblance to what was the FIRST and LAST of the earth-covered schools in not only Osceola County, but also the State.
Visit the Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek's Replica Schoolhouse to be transported back to the 1890’s to compare the differences between then and the earth-covered school.
Sources: “Orlando Sentinel” issues, 1980-1986
Photo source: “Kissimmee Gazette” May 1, 1980