Johnston students construct building to house owls, hawks at Jester Park

Hawk croppedJOHNSTON, Ia. (March 9, 2022) — Students in Rhys South’s construction technology class at Johnston High School are building a Raptor Building for the education center at Jester Park.

Working with Polk County Conservation, students are constructing a 10 x 20-foot building to house one hawk and one owl that has been injured and can’t be released into the wild. That may include a barred owl and a red-tailed hawk.

“An education permit through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to keep raptors (eagles, hawks, owls, and falcons) in captivity,” said Patrice Petersen-Keys with Polk County Conservation. “Only birds that are non-releasable (unable to survive in the wild) can been be used for educational purposes.”

Raptor BuildingStudents are constructing the building in the wood shop at Johnston High School. They first made models of the building, a fraction of the size of the real one. The building will be made of a wood frame and will have plywood siding and a steel roof. The project is teaching students about using power tools, measuring, building models, reading plans and framing.

Once the structure is finished, it will be moved into place on a concrete pad at Jester Park. Taking that into account, students are making the building narrow enough to fit in a trailer.

“We modified plans from a similar building,” said Rhys South, a JHS industrial technology and Project Lead the Way teacher. “The building has fence-covered windows in the front for public viewing of the birds and a fenced roof opening for ventilation.”

Raptor Building2CMBA Architects partnered with Polk County Conservation and Johnston High School in the project, donating their time and expertise to prepare the construction plans for the Raptor Building at no cost.

Johnston construction technology students generally construct a building each year ranging from garden sheds to an outdoor classroom, to vendor buildings at the Christkindlmarket event in downtown Des Moines.

This year with the Raptor Building, Johnston students will benefit from the real-life experience of building something that will be on public display and will be used for years to come. The partnership also benefits Polk County Conservation and Jester Park, who will be the recipients of the new structure.

“I was hopeful to get a volunteer group or business to take it on as our own construction crew is swamped with projects,” Petersen-Keys said. “I also thought it would be fun for the students to work on something that will be on public display for years to come. In 10 years, they will be able to come to Jester Park and see the structure. It also Owl croppedhas an interesting purpose as it will be the home for an education raptor.”

Petersen-Keys said she hopes to have a ribbon cutting with the students once the Raptor Building is transported and ready to open.

The naturalists who work with Petersen-Keys are hosting around 40 programs about birds — like these raptors — in the first three months of 2022 alone. That’s serving nearly 800 school-aged kids. Find a program like this on the events calendar at Or check out Polk County Conservation’s web page on birding where you’ll find info on native species, viewing platforms and bird blinds found across the family of parks.