Jason Geiser, owner of Deco-Crete Supply in Orrville, Ohio, thought a broad, sloping hill at his three children’s new school needed something to transform it from a virtually unusable space to an inviting outdoor classroom. After talking things over with the superintendent, he and school officials came up with a project that revolved around Geiser building an amphitheater.
Donating time, labor and materials, Geiser and his crew tackled the project at Dalton Elementary and Middle School over the course of a year or so. Finally complete, the amphitheater comprises a five-tiered seating area made from concrete blocks that are faced with Kirtbag Carving Mix stained with Proline Easy Accent stains.
“We put down artificial turf between the tiers to make upkeep easier,” Geiser says. “It would have been a bear to mow between the rows.”
Out of this world
Above the seating walls is an upper area with picnic tables on a cappuccino and chocolate colored patio with an oyster white and smoky brown border. Stairs, textured with a rock-face form liner from Brickform, lead off the patio and down the hill to the literal star of the project — a jet-black patio adorned with glow-in-the-dark images of the Milky Way galaxy surrounded by a host of constellations, everything from the Big and Little Dipper to Orion the Hunter.
Geiser says the concrete used there is integrally colored with a Deco-Crete dark gray liquid colorant and a black shake-on color hardener. “I knew we were going to grind and I wanted the surface to be as black as possible,” he says. “And the only way to get it super black is to use a color hardener.”
On top of the hardener, he broadcast crushed mirror — about 25 pounds per every 100 square feet — and ground that down to expose the mirror. This addition gives the patio a special daytime effect. “When the sun shines on the patio, it’s lit up with little sparkles that look like millions of stars twinkling in the sky,” he says.
But it’s at night when the patio really shines. The galaxy and the constellations — which were created with templates supplied by one of the school’s teachers — spring to life when the sun goes down.
On the template, the constellations’ brighter stars were marked with bigger circles to make them more prominent. Rather than using large glow stones for these points, they made 1/16-inch deep indents in the surface with different sized circles made from MDF (medium-density fiberboard). They then filled these indents with a slurry mix made from a two-part UV-stable epoxy and a glow-in-the-dark powder made by Glow Stones USA.
With glow-in-the-dark products, Geiser explains, the smaller luminescent particles glow much brighter than the larger stones. To make the stars look like they are glowing, he added very fine glow-in-the-dark powder to a polyaspartic and sprayed it out of an HVLP (high-volume, low-pressure) gun. “This created a fine mist around the stars which really looks cool at night,” he says, and illuminated them even more.
When they were all done spraying, they applied a clear coat of the same polyaspartic on everything.
An uphill battle
The biggest challenge Geiser and his crew faced was the project’s location. “It was on a hill and it was challenging to get the concrete there,” Geiser says, adding that they needed a slinger truck and everything had to be pumped.
There was also a lot of back-breaking wheelbarrow work involved — especially with the stone and landscape rock in the upper level.
And, since school was in session much of the time, they had to wait until the kids were gone because the work was too noisy and disruptive.
Besides the space-themed patio, the outdoor classroom has another interesting touch involving animal tracks. On a concrete expanse between the black patio and the school, an array of animals looks like they’ve run across the surface.
“You see bird prints. Then a fox’s. Then a combination of a fox chasing a bird,” Geiser says. “Doing that part was really fun.”
Geiser says that he incorporated tracks from a beaver, deer, racoon, opossum and squirrel as well. He found most of the tracks online and made rubber molds from them for the project.
Project at a Glance
Client: Dalton Elementary and Middle School
Decorative concrete contractor: Jason Geiser, Deco-Crete Supply, Orrville, Ohio
Scope of project: A volunteered community service for a public school in Ohio involving building an amphitheater complete with seating walls and stairs, glow-in-the-dark patio with constellations, outdoor lunch area and a patio with imprinted animal tracks.
Products used: Kirtbag Carving Mix, Proline Easy Accent stains, American Specialty Glass crushed mirror, glow-in-the-dark powder by Glow Stones USA, and Deco-Crete integral colorant, color hardener, release and Poly Armour 70 sealer.
Most challenging aspect: Building on a not easily accessible hillside along a section of a new school.