College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities

New outdoor lab enhances hands-on learning in construction science and management


Students in construction science and management dig postholes at the new XL yard.
The new XL Yard is a 3-acre site where construction science and management students can build structures such as tiny houses and gazebos. It includes an 1,800-square-foot classroom. Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

Students in the Nieri Family Department of Construction Science and Management have a new 3-acre site where they will gain hands-on construction experience.

The Experiential Learning Yard, located at the Clemson University Ravenel Research Center, provides space for students to construct full-scale structures.

“It’s really our outdoor laboratory for construction,” said Mike Jackson, chair of the department.

The XL Yard, as it is informally known, includes the John B. Nieri Construction Learning Center. The 1,800-square-foot classroom was donated by Michael Nieri ’86, the founder and president of Great Southern Homes in Columbia, in honor of his father.

The new site fills a longtime need for the department, which hasn’t had a permanent location for outdoor construction activities.

Since his arrival at Clemson three years ago, Jackson has raised funds to make possible a permanent facility for outdoor construction activities.

All of the department’s students — more than 250 — will take classes at the site, including a safety course and a construction science workshop.

Richard Gauthier, the department’s experiential learning program coordinator, describes the workshop he offers as “a class where we actually get the students’ hands dirty, where we have them build things or tear things apart.”

Jackson said many future courses could be offered at the site. The classroom and yard also will be used for guest lectures by construction professionals.

“They’ll bring their expertise to the classroom,” Gauthier said. “Some will also bring equipment to work with in the yard.”

Construction science and management students are required to complete 800 hours of internships prior to graduation. Students are eager to learn even more.

“In surveys of interns, one thing many said is that they’d like to have more hands-on experiences,” Gauthier said. “That’s what prompted this whole thing.”

Plans call for some structures – such as tiny houses and gazebos – to be built and auctioned off to support future projects at the XL Yard.

Until now, construction science and management students have gained hands-on experience by working on initiatives with such organizations as Habitat for Humanity.

One longstanding project is the Habitat house students build on Bowman Field each fall in connection with homecoming at Clemson University. Those houses, built in merely a month, are transported to sites in Pickens County where they are occupied by homeowners. That time-honored project will continue in the future.

Michael Nieri’s $100,000 donation of the John B. Nieri Construction Learning Center continues his legacy of support for construction science and management education in the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. In 2019, Nieri and his wife Robyn donated $5 million to the department that now carries his family’s name, the largest gift to date in the department and College.

Additional construction industry partners helped launch the XL Yard through cash and in-kind contributions.

At the $30,000 level, corporate donors for the XL Yard include Carolina Power. At the $25,000 level are Fluor Corp and Katerra, while $10,000 donors include CF Evans, Choate Construction, Holder Construction, Hood Construction and Patuxent Materials.

Gifts in-kind for the XL Yard were provided by Capitol Construction (grading), Carolina Power (power and hook-up), Jet Commercial Plumbing (water lines), Freeland Engineering (survey and inspection), Lake Murray Environmental (erosion control), Bunnell Lammons Engineering (testing), Metrocon (concrete materials), Baker Concrete (concrete labor), Zorn Construction (bollards and striping), and Reeves Young, Choate Construction and Brasfield & Gorrie (shipping containers).

Jackson is particularly pleased with the outstanding project management support provided by Steve Foushee of P+F Construction.

“Our corporate partners have been very generous,” Jackson said. “We are very blessed to have such a wonderful group of industry supporters at Clemson and in the Nieri Family Department of Construction Science and Management.”

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