Private bunkhouse at BFREE

bunkhouse-300x224The bunkhouse is located 225 m from the river on the north side of the main grounds and is situated under the hulking shade of a massive 140-foot tall Ceiba tree. It was built in 1998 and expanded in 2008 to be 40’  x 24’  (1200 ft2). It sleeps 24 people in bunk beds in four separate rooms.

It is an elevated building, creating space at ground level for hammocks and gear. It is serviced by a rainwater collection system that feeds two sinks and two showers, and it has a four-stall composting bathroom 10m away. Visitors are provided with linens, blankets and mosquito netting.


solar-panel-4-for-webDuring the summer of 2013,  professors and students from three different technical colleges installed solar panels on top of the bunkhouse as part of a field course. Joel Shoemaker of Madison College, Chris Miller of Heartland Community College, and Sarah Hawkins of Lakeshore Technical College led the course.

The Photo Voltaic panels used on the bunkhouse were previously installed at Madison College, but had been blown down in a storm and were later donated. Charge controllers, LED lighting, wiring and batteries were among the other items donated by Joel and Chris.

Though the instructors may have brought most of the supplies, the students, said Chris, did all of the work.

solar-panel-1-for-web“The mission is to put what we learn in the classroom into operation,” he said.

All of the instructors said they hoped their students would learn to be self-reliant and gain confidence by doing an install in an environment with limited resources.

“If something is missing or broken, you would have just bought a new piece,” said Sarah. “But here, you need to problem solve on the spot. For example, when the generator broke instead of going out to get a new one, Tyler took the whole thing apart and fixed it.”

Students not only had to be quick on their feet, they also had to think ahead.

“In order to do this, we would have to plan very well and make sure we had all of our parts and pieces,” said Joel.  “I wanted our students to experience the process of really thinking through everything they were doing and figuring out how to deal with whatever limitations were around them.”

solar-panel-3-for-webChris and Joel also wanted their students to get the experience of installing a solar system that would be the main source of power. Unlike in the US where these systems usually function as a secondary source, the system on the bunkhouse would be the sole source of energy.

Before the new install the bunkhouse only had D/C indoor lights with no outlets and the picnic tables outside of the bunkhouse did not have any lighting at all. The system inside was often unreliable with students having to fumble around after dark.

Now the bunkhouse is equipped with stable lighting, outlets for students to charge phones and laptops and lighting for the outdoor picnic tables.