All-Girl Construction Team Builds Bird Shelters at Dallas Zoo

Birds squawk as Duncanville High School’s Tami Gurnell leads her students into the wooded backstage area at the Dallas Zoo’s bird show.

On this day, Ms. Gurnell is taking her construction and building trades classroom outside. Her all-girl team of students carries steel beams, drills and a circular saw into their outdoor workspace.

This real-world project has been in the works for 10 weeks. The client is an exclusive group of birds who perform for zoo patrons every day.

“Some of the birds like to bathe and some of them like to shower just like people and so what I needed was a three-quarter roof,” said Director of Animal Encounters, Amy Robinson.

Architecture students from Duncanville High School designed the awnings using computer aided design. The young women met with the birds’ caretakers earlier this year to perfect their measurements and to make sure their design met expectations.

“It’s very exciting because you get to see what you make can turn into something actual concrete and it can be used right now,” said junior Cheyenne Parker.

Senior Saleen Donohoe cranks up the drill as she uses it to attach the steel beams. She has become a leader in her construction class after taking several years of courses. Next year she plans to study engineering and business in college to help her family’s construction company.

“It’s very unique to have just girls to come out and do this to show that we can do this kind of stuff and to show younger girls if they want to come up and do this,” Saleen said.

In the years Ms. Gurnell has taught at Duncanville High School, most of her students have been young men. She advocates for the young women because they still make up just a fraction of workers in the construction business.

“Don’t make a mistake and think they’re blue collar workers,” Ms. Gurnell said. “No, these are going to be skilled, craft professionals and that’s what we need in our industry.”

When this community service project is complete, the zoo will have 26 new awnings, ensuring its feathered performers perch in comfort, rain or shine. The original estimated cost came in at $35,000. Donated supplies and the girls’ elbow grease, brought the total to less than $4,000.

The result is great deal for the zoo and a resume builder for the students.

“I love this partnership,” Ms. Robinson said. "I love everything about it. Women helping animals and women helping women. I love the kids are learning something; it’s just a great community feeling.”