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Iowa State University LA Students Help Master Plan & Construct Outdoor Spaces for Women's Prison

The master plan for the outdoor spaces at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville includes: 1. Restoration Park 2. Decompression Deck 3. Visitor Courtyard 4. Overlook 5. Outdoor Classrooms 6. Parkway 7. Community & Production Garden 8. Greenhouses 9. Recreation Courts 10. Grove 11. Herb Garden Labyrinth 12. Tree Nursery

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Over the past two years, Assistant Professor Julie Stevens, Department of Landscape Architecture, Iowa State University (Ames), and her fourth and fifth-year students, have created ideas for a master plan for a prison landscape for the new Iowa 30-acre campus at the Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) in Mitchellville. The project is part of a $68 million expansion and modernization. The new facility will open this fall.

Throughout the design, Stevens and her students consulted with ICIW administrators and the project architects (STV, New York, and Design Alliance, Waukee), and conducted focus groups with offenders and staff.

Graduate student Chad Hunter, and former grad student Colby Fangman, combined student designs into a comprehensive master plan featuring five spaces, including a visitor courtyard with a mother-child garden and a deck where correctional officers can take a break. Garret Munch and Nicholas King designed the multipurpose classrooms last spring before graduating in May. The "real world" design will be a real plus on their r?sum?s.

Prof. Stevens says the design is a positive environment and is based on Stephen Kaplan's restoration theories on the benefits of time spent outdoors. The outdoor classrooms will give prisoners, counselors and staff a restorative environment for classes, counseling and vocational training.

This summer the students learned how design translates into construction. Stevens and five of her landscape architecture students--Nicholas Gulick, Colten McDermott, Branden Pentico, Nate Schlorholtz and Meredith Ver Steeg, with the help of six inmates--constructed the outdoor classrooms in the center of the prison's new campus. The students operated a Bobcat and excavator, cut limestone blocks and shimmed walls, hands-on field experience that was an invaluable adjunct to their classroom work.

The largest outdoor classroom is tiered with bench seating for 100 and a stage for lectures, graduation ceremonies and community theater, adjacent to a classroom for about 30 people. ISU industrial design students designed desks (being built by Iowa Prison Industries) with desktops that rotate, so classes can face different directions, depending on the sun's position. A third flexible space can be configured for small group activities or one-on-one counseling sessions.

In spring 2014, prairie plants will be added to the space and in September offenders and students will once again work together to plant trees.

Click here to watch a video of the project.

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August 24, 2019, 5:34 am PDT

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