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Chimney swift houses to go up at two schools

This is an example of the towers Kraus-Anderson has built at other school sites. The tower simulates the chimneys that are the natural habitat of the birds that have dwindled in population in recent years, according to Audubon Minnesota.

The population of chimney swifts will get a boost from two birdhouses going up at District 833 elementary schools this summer.

Construction company Kraus-Anderson has joined Audubon Minnesota to provide homes for the birds.

This summer, while Hillside and Newport elementary schools are getting new heating and cooling systems, swift houses will be built at no cost to the district.

Audubon Minnesota is providing the plans and materials and Kraus-Anderson is providing the labor.

Chimney swifts make good neighbors, according to Ron Windingstad, of Audubon Minnesota. They are "prodigious" consumers of insects, particularly flies and mosquitoes. They are not perching birds, he said, and don't leave a mess.

Despite their value to the ecosystem, the swift population has declined over the past 20 years because the number of hollow trees has decreased due to new housing. Also, modern chimneys have grates and metal caps that keep them out of their namesakes.

Each tower is 12 to 16-feet high and built with wood texture paneling on the interior with horizontal grooves for the birds to cling to, according to Kraus-Anderson Project Manager Terry Thompson.

The outside of the houses are cement-based lap siding that will be painted. Four steel legs will be anchored into each 6-foot concrete base.

Maintenance should be minimal with periodic cleaning, Thompson said, and houses will only need painting every three to five years.

The birds are not the only ones that will benefit from the towers, said John Doth, district facilities director.

Schools assisted with selecting the tower sites and curriculum about the swifts will be given to the schools by Audubon Minnesota so information can be incorporated into science, math and geography classes.

The Newport tower will also have an attached kiosk providing educational and visual displays relating to the project so students can enjoy their new neighbors.

Windingstad commended Kraus-Anderson and the district for volunteering to help conserve the dwindling number of swifts.

"Not only will each of the towers provide homes for 20 to 30 swifts, they are a great way to promote conservation to students and the communities where they are placed," Windingstad said.

Houses will be built at Pine Hill, Crestview and Woodbury elementary schools next summer, Thompson said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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