SIOUX CITY | The volunteers laboring at Spalding Park Elementary Thursday put down some plastic designed to prevent the sprouting of weeds.

Using shovels, they evened out hundreds of pounds of gravel that had been dumped at the site by a hauler, and later planted some shrubbery.

But the 15 volunteers who gave several hours of work and wiped away sweat in the midday sun weren't Sioux City School District workers or a special ground crew hired for the task.

As part of a special day of service, attorneys from across Iowa built a handicapped-accessible outdoor classroom at Spalding Park school in Sioux City. The group of trial lawyers are in the Iowa Association for Justice, working on the Justice In Deed initiative.

"It is a day to give back to the community," said Saffin Parrish-Sams, an attorney from Cumming, in central Iowa.

"It is a chance to show that lawyer jokes aren't true. Lawyers get a bad rap. The people who belong to the Association for Justice are great people."

The Justice In Deed endeavor has resulted in almost 50 community projects since 2008 across Iowa. Parrish-Sams has worked at least one each year.

"This is a fantastic school," she said. "I love the vision, these outdoor classrooms. How cool is that? They didn't have that when I was in school."

The president of the Iowa Association for Justice sets the project for each September. Sioux City Attorney Jim Daane in 2015 led an initiative at Camp High Hopes to place landscaping and build benches and canoe racks.

Tim Bottaro of Sioux City is this year's president, and he pursued the Spalding project of a handicapped-accessible outdoor classroom to meet Americans With Disabilities Act requirements and provide equal opportunities for learning. There is such an outdoor classroom for other students already at the six-year-old school, but it is much further away on the north grounds and not easily reached by students with mobility issues.

"Everybody is working together. It is a lot of joking, good camaraderie. They are genuinely excited about the project," Bottaro said.

Attorney Pat Phipps, who lives in nearby Moville, shoveled gravel around and did some planting. Pausing for an early afternoon pizza break, Phipps said his prime landscaping background is in planting.

Phipps mulled whether the volunteer work was too taxing.

"It is great, good to be outside, great people. This is a good group of trial lawyers," Phipps said.

Spalding Park Elementary School Principal Mimi Moore said students will see the final product Friday. Moore raved about having a much more accessible park, which could draw migratory butterflies, for students. Elsewhere on the Spalding grounds, the attorneys helped level out a trail and turned logs into benches.

"I am like, wow, they have gotten a lot done. More than what we could have gotten done. We would have had to piece-meal it," Moore said.

In addition to Sioux City, the attorneys came from such large cities as Waterloo, Mason City, Dubuque, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Ames and Spencer.

Bottaro said the day proceeded as well as he hoped, just like the other Justice In Deed projects over the last nine years. A lot of the summer projects have involved building homes for Habitat for Humanity, and the attorneys helped victims in the aftermath of a tornado that struck Siouxland in Mapleton in spring 2011.

"We have done amazing projects over the years...When we do these projects, they are very physical. They like that, rather than standing around," Bottaro said.


County and education reporter

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