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Montgomery High students use ancient techniques to build school bench

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Students built a new bench on the northwest end of Montgomery High School, and it looks straight out of the “The Flintstones.”

The circular adobe bench was constructed this month right outside the school’s students services building. School officials hope the bench, which holds up to 14 people, will provide a peaceful spot for students participating in counseling and restorative practices, as well as foster face-to-face communication during an era of increased screen time.

“We have a lot of students that use that building for counseling, so to have an area to retreat, decompress or refocus is great,” Principal Randy Burbank said.

Burbank said prospective students and families touring the school have been struck by the adobe bench, which students in the green construction class and an English class made from recycled concrete, hay, mud bricks and clay plaster.

The bench is fireproof, said Zeke Gifford, who teaches the green construction class at Montgomery.

“If a fire hits this, it actually makes it stronger. It can withstand a lot,” Gifford said.

The bench began with a foundation of broken chunks of concrete. The back of the bench was made with 100 adobe bricks baked in the sun, said Miguel Elliott, owner of Sebastopol-based Living Earth Structures.

Elliott has completed adobe projects at other area schools, and he worked with students in Gifford’s classes to build the bench over the course of four weeks, after Gifford secured a $3,500 grant that covered labor and materials.

“The kids have a sense of accomplishment,” Elliott said.

Students recently were installing landscaping around the bench. Art students plan to add a mosaic to the back of the bench, possible in the style of famed Spanish artist Antoni Gaudí.

Seth Plikuhn, a 15-year-old sophomore who wants to become a welder, said the bench project was a challenge.

However, he said, “Once we got the bases done, it got easier and easier.”

Melissa Walker, a junior and the only female in her advanced green construction class who worked on the bench, said, “I enjoy building and working with my hands.”

She described the ancient techniques they used to construct the bench out of organic materials, starting with using big stones as the base and filling holes with smaller ones.

“The hardest part was to make sure the rock layer was smooth and in line underneath,” she said.

Christopher Presar, a 16-year-old junior, said the green construction class has helped him become more comfortable with power tools, understand safety risks and move him closer to his career goals.

“I’m trying to learn all the trades,” said Presar, who works in plumbing during the summers.

Presar lives near Coffey Park and was evacuated during the October 2017 wildfires.

His uncle lost his Coffey Park home in the Tubbs fire and is rebuilding. He felt encouraged to use fireproof materials for the bench.

“It reassured me that it’s going to stay a long time and kids of all ages whether they go here or not are going to be able to sit on that bench and just enjoy the sun and the school,” he said. “It’s just a really nice place to sit and relax.”

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or susan.minichiello@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @susanmini.

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