MARBLEHEAD — Drivers passing by the Tower School may have recently noticed a miniature Cape Cod-style cottage sitting on the edge of the property. 

The 8-foot-by-10-foot structure is actually a wooden-shingled playhouse, designed and constructed by 10 children and a handful of teachers and local architects as part of a two-week summer camp. Launched this year, Camp InSPURation is a partnership between the community service nonprofit SPUR and the Tower School in Marblehead.

Painted with blue trim, the playhouse was delivered to its new home at Children’s Friend and Family Services in Salem on Friday. It's situated on the grassy yard next to the facilities outpatient clinic, and children there can now enjoy its carefully crafted features — including a telephone booth, silent-theater-style puppet window and a walk-up ordering window with its own kitchen.

Tower School student Despina Efthymiou, 11, of Lynn, was one of the campers who constructed the playhouse. “It was fun drilling the holes,” she said, adding she learned how to correctly place the screws in the wood in order to build the frames.

Architectural designer Alison Spring took the lead on the playhouse project, drafting design plans for the traditional-style structure and overseeing the campers during their two-week endeavor. To begin, Spring presented the kids with a 30-page architectural drawing before leading them through the framing process.

“I’m trying to stay one step ahead of them as we go,” she said during the construction phase. Spring, who also serves as a SPUR board member, said the eager campers were involved in all parts of the design — from the shutters to the color of the trim.

Using drills, staple guns, hammers and nails, the campers practiced each step of the construction sequence before beginning the real project, while taking frequent breaks from the hot sun. Spring said the adults handled all the heavy power tools.

Aurie St. Clair, 11, of Marblehead, particularly enjoyed the detail work, like hammering in the shingles. “When you’re doing the shingling, it keeps getting higher and higher up, and makes it hard,” she said.

Three local architects stopped by during the two weeks to see the design and share their ideas. At the end of the program, Spring said the campers also learned how to draw their own mock sketches of designs, like real architects.

“They’ll be able to convey their ideas visually,” she said. “And take away a toolbox of skills.”

Inside the Tower School, Lucas Birke, 13, of Marblehead, applied white paint to wooden signs with help from three other campers. The finished signs were fixed onto the front of the playhouse. Like the others, he also enjoyed installing shingles to the outside of the house, as it "gets you into a rhythm.”

Walking through the school, Birke pointed out a 3D laser printer, which imprinted the logos of the Tower School and SPUR onto a piece of wood for the playhouse. “I haven’t really seen anything like it before,” the teen said. “It’s amazing.”

This type of service-learning project is an integral part of the Tower School, teacher Chris Field said. Serving around 250 students in grades pre-K through eighth, he says the school works to build “character and confidence” within its students. 

“This truly was a unique collaboration,” said Field, who has taught there for the last 16 years. “One where we’re building something to give.”

Children’s Friend and Family Services in Salem, a division of the Justice Resource Institute, offers outpatient and in-home therapy and therapeutic mentoring for around 250 families and children in the city, area director Christin Brown said. The new playhouse, she says, allows therapists to take children outside and work on practicing sensory input and grounding techniques. 

“It will help with practicing communication skills,” Brown said, especially through the phone booth and ordering window. “It will be very special; a warm and welcoming place for children.”

On Friday, staff and children joined Camp InSPURation campers to celebrate the arrival of the playhouse with a pizza party.

Building a partnership 

Jocelyn Cook, founder and executive director of SPUR, said she was interested in facilitating a hands-on summer project to engage more young people in community service.

When looking to partner with someone locally, the director said she began by asking, “What can you bring to the table?” After that, you then need to identify what you're missing. With its ample space, she said the Tower School was the perfect fit. Camp InSPURation ran from July 29 to Aug. 9.

“It’s a beautiful partnership,” added Cook, saying the school nurtures similar values within the community to that of SPUR. “It’s a transformative experience for kids.”

Founded in 2014, SPUR is a Marblehead-based nonprofit organization that services the communities of Lynn, Marblehead, Salem and Swampscott. Cook hopes to continue the summer camp in the future.

“What’s exciting for me is our mission is carried out in different avenues,” she added.

Staff writer Alyse Diamantides can be reached at 978-338-2660 or

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