Clemson architectural students stood on ladders to weave metal sheets between wooden beams while others crouched low to fill holes with putty on the new park structure. 

The 11 students were finishing construction Friday on the shade and community garden storage shelter at the city's Corrine Jones Park in Wagener Terrace.

It's the third of its kind that the students created in Charleston. Though it may need some touch-ups early in the week, culmination of the nearly four-month project — from design to final build — now stands outside the park's playground. 

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Phil Riazzi tapes off sections to paint as students with Clemson's architecture program complete the structure they designed and built at Corrine Jones Park on Friday, April 26, 2019, in Charleston. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Graduate student Phil Riazzi of Dayton, Ohio, said students felt pressure to elevate an already popular park but that it was rewarding to work on a space "that's so intertwined in the community." The playground, tennis and basketball courts on one side and the open field on the other, posed a unique challenge.

"How can we make something that doesn't feel like it's a wall between the two?" Riazzi said. "I think what we tried to do is this idea of movement, the roof would imply this fluidity from one side of the park to the other and not feel like it has a front or a back. It's kind of 360 degrees of access to the building — that's something I think was very successful about the design."

Though the structure at Corrine Jones Park is new, the partnership between the university, the city and Charleston Parks Conservancy dates back several years. Students in Clemson's Architecture + CommunityBUILD certificate program have also designed and built community garden-based projects at Magnolia Park and Community Garden and James Island's Riverland Terrace.

"This is, to me, one of the biggest reasons I chose to come to Clemson because of this opportunity," Riazzi said. "The type of program, the design/build program is so successful, I think, because it's in Charleston and so vibrant and diverse."

The university has also worked with the city and other nonprofits on advocacy projects, including a study of the upper peninsula which examined how to make public streets and public ways in higher density scales of development better, said Ray Huff, director of the Clemson Design Center Charleston. Students in the urban design program also have done detailed studies of the planned bus rapid transit route from the peninsula to Summerville, he said.

"There's a tangible benefit to the student in terms of getting feedback on their idea, having to set that filter through a real-world experience," Huff said. "It's not to dampen their creative input, it's to ground them in a sense that architecture has many responsibilities, but one of them is that things are done in a just way."

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Clemson architecture graduate student Cameron Foster works on the roof structure at Corrine Jones Park on Friday, April 26, 2019, in Charleston. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Architectural design students at the Clemson satellite campus began design work on the park structure in January, each student creating a rendering of their ideal project. Over the following months, they met with community groups, Parks Conservancy leaders and the city to finalize a single design. When completed, 60 raised garden beds will be available for year leases and 16 community gardens will grow vegetables to be donated. 

Clemson graduate student Megan Gotsch of Fort Wayne, Ind., said the ongoing construction has brought lots of questions from park-goers, and quite often children will sit on the nearby fence and watch the Clemson students work. 

"Every day we have people coming over and asking what we're doing and what it will be," Gotsch said. "It's fun getting to talk to everyone and getting people excited about the project."

David Pastre, professor of the Architecture + CommunityBUILD program, said the work students do each semester is "always a public good kind of project," with a focus on agriculture.

"Most of the time architectural education is theoretical," Pastre said. "This gives students the opportunity to do hands-on work and design."

Harry Lesesne, executive director of the Charleston Parks Conservancy, raised about $10,000 for the Corrine Jones Park project. Lesesne said Pastre and his students are very "community spirited" and adds to the work the conservancy does in 24 of the city's 120 parks, especially their community vegetable garden program. Since 2015, the Parks Conservancy has donated 11,000 pounds of food grown in city parks to the Lowcountry Food Bank and One80 Place.

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Reach Mikaela Porter at 843-937-5609. Follow her on Twitter @mikaelaporterPC. 

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