Two life-size concrete eagles on spiral brick columns about 10 feet tall now guard the main driveway entrance to Wilkes Central High School in Moravian Falls.
A welded sculpture of an eagle’s nest, brick planter boxes and new landscaping are now immediately in front of the school.
It’s all part of Project GreenLIFE, a broad-based initiative at Wilkes Central funded with a $4,577 Lowe’s Companies Inc. Toolbox for Education grant and over $1,200 raised by school clubs and teams and individuals in the community.
“Students, parents, teachers, the central office, Wilkes Community College, businesses, citizens in our community and Lowe’s have all contributed time, treasure and talent to redefine the school as The Nest, the home of the Eagles,” said Wilkes Central Principal Michelle Shepherd.
“Everyone is valued at our school, and we are excited that the outside of the school with eagles guarding the entrance and an eagle guarding the nest sculpture will set a positive tone for the inside and will serve as a symbol of The Nest to students and alumni in the years to come.”
Wilkes Central student Brett Boone said the improvements will show off Wilkes Central’s school pride when other teams come there to play.
Donna Rollins, a counselor at school, added, “It’s the first impression of the school. It makes our school look beautiful and inviting.”
The first event bringing attention to the new features is the 2014 Run to the Nest 5K on Saturday, a fundraiser sponsored by the Wilkes Central Athletic Booster Club and coordinated by faculty member Heather Freeman.
The run starts at 8:30 a.m., with check-in from 7:15 to 8:15 a.m. Awards will be presented to the top three male and top three female finishers in multiple age categories and overall.
To register for the race online, go to http://www.racingtoes.com/run-to-the-nest-5k-online-registration. Call Coach Jamie Susi at 704-999-9169 for more details.
At the end of the 2012-13 school year, Mrs. Shepherd approached veteran teacher John Elledge about writing an application for a Lowe’s Tool Box grant of up to $5,000.
As Elledge and Mrs. Shepherd brainstormed about ideas for a grant, Elledge considered the appearance of the school in the 1980s when he first began to teach there.
“The school looked a lot different two decades ago. It was landscaped, and students and teachers would take a day off from school to work on the school grounds. I decided to write a grant to enhance the beauty of the campus,” he said.
“The school has had major interior renovations in the last decade, but the school grounds needed a major overhaul after years of neglect,” he said.
Elledge said red-rock gravel dominated areas once landscaped with plants and contributed to the exterior’s stark and uninspiring appearance, making the school “look more like a cold institution rather than a welcoming modern home.”
Mrs. Shepherd strongly endorsed Elledge’s concept and ideas from Tim Wyatt and Gary Treadway, Wilkes Central masonry and welding teachers respectively, were sought.
This led to masonry students building planters and spiral columns adorned with concrete eagles and welding students creating a sculpture of a nest.
Wyatt said the spiral columns are reinforced with a core of concrete and rebar and the eagles are also secured with concrete and rebar.
“Experienced masons have told me that they could not build a spiral column, that it was beyond their ability and training. This project provides our students an impressive “portfolio” item to reference in job applications,” he said.
An entire page of The World of Welding magazine featured Treadway and his welding students for their work on the nest sculpture.
“The project just proves our students are career ready and has allowed us to showcase their work. Local businesses in town have asked about hiring our students.”
Wilkes Steel provided metal for the sculpture at a reduced price.
Wilkes school maintenance staff helped prepare the sculpture site by removing the red landscaping rocks and marking water and power lines. Rex Brown and Jody Miller of Moravian Falls also helped prepare the area.
Elledge spent six months planning and writing the grant and submitted it to Lowe’s in February 2013. He learned that the grant was approved the day before standardized testing began in May 2013.
Students then began to work on Project Green LIFE, with “green” referring to one of the school’s main two colors and establishing plants on the campus.
“LIFE is an acronym for “Landscape Inspiration For Eagles.”
Donna Riddle’s horticulture students at Wilkes Community College presented landscaping plans and Mrs. Riddle gave Elledge and Mrs. Shepherd advice about transforming the high school’s landscape.
“Donna Riddle had a major influence on this project. We just can’t thank her, her students and WCC enough,” said Elledge.
He said Mrs. Riddle has mentored Jason Caudill, Wilkes Central’s new agriculture and horticulture teacher. Caudill, a graduate of North Carolina State and Clemson universities, took a class from Mrs. Riddle last summer and she helped him with the landscaping portion of Project Green LIFE when he started at WCHS in January.
Using the ideas of Mrs. Riddle’s students, Caudill created a landscaping plan that includes using the school’s greenhouse to provide annuals for the brick planter boxes. Spring weather conditions delayed Caudill’s students, but they worked on Saturdays to install new landscaping features. Some of the new landscaping will be in place for graduation, but work will continue into the summer and next year.
“The project wouldn’t have been possible without the financial help, technical expertise and materials from the school’s life-long friend, Lowe’s Companies, and the employees and management of the local Lowe’s store,” said Elledge.
Melanie Hamby served as financial manager of accounts for the project.