GHS class selling sauna to help refund program
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Rowan Jones

This past Thursday — the last of the 2018-19 school year — the only thing that stood in the way of completion for students of Gunnison High School’s (GHS) construction and advanced drafting classes was a smokestack.

Over the course of the school year, the students had worked diligently to build a sauna — from the drafting desk to drilling — and late last week, they were putting the finishing touches on the project. Now, all they need is a buyer.

“Hopefully people want to support the program,” said Wyatt Phipps, who has been the industrial arts teacher at GHS for the last 14 years, teaching students an applied form of mathematics.

“We used a lot of geometry to find the angle on the boards,” said junior Kaitlyn Williams, whose idea it was to build the sauna in the first place.

Phipps said that after Williams built a structure for Habitat for Humanity last year, she suggested that her classmates tackle a sauna. After further research into the prospect, the students found the cost to build such a structure would be steep. But it didn’t faze them.

“They wrote a grant to the Rhode Foundation,” Phipps said.

Founded by Gunnison High graduate John Rhode, the foundation gave the students the needed funding. They were required by the foundation to make a formal presentation, including drafting and a model of the sauna.

Once the students secured the funding, they began moving toward construction. But before they could cut or join materials, they had other problems to overcome. They first needed wood.

During their research, the students found that typically aspen is the wood of choice for sauna construction in Northern European nations. It also had its benefits compared to cedar, Phipps said, because it’s nontoxic and doesn’t produce an allergic reaction as cedar can.

However, the two-inch aspen planks needed by the class had to be specially cut in Saguache County.

“There’s only two sawmills in the entire state that can provide that for us,” Phipps said.

Upon delivery, the wood was green and still needed to be cut to size, planed, joined and then air-dried. That months-long process started in late December.

Yet, wood breaking and bowing during construction slowed the process further, but the students’ persistence paid off.

“It was frustrating at first,” junior Jesse Guardardo said. “But once we started putting it together it started coming together, and it got pretty easy from there.”

After spending a year on the project, the students were proud of what they had accomplished.

“To see what and how much we can do in just one school year, and to see it all come together from our plans (was encouraging),” sophomore Bowen DeValois said.

Currently, one more task remains. The sauna needs a home. The Rhode Foundation is letting the class keep all the money that is made off the sale of the sauna, and Phipps hopes its sale will generate about $3,000 to continue funding the program and allow for other projects in the future.

Interested buyers can contact Phipps at


- Rowan Jones, Special to the Times