Building project teaches classical lesson

Pompeii replica in LHS courtyard to be used for poetry readings, small plays

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Nor was the “House of Vettii,” a replica of an ancient Roman edifice now under construction in a Lawrence High School courtyard.

For a couple of hours each week – and on some weekends – students are shoveling, hammering, drilling and painting their way to recreating elements of the famous home of a well-to-do resident of ancient Pompeii.

Pompeii was destroyed in a volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. But in the late 19th century, homes such as the House of Vettii were uncovered, revealing the art and architecture of the era.

The LHS courtyard project began about a year and a half ago, when the interior was painted.

But more progress will come this year, including adding a small Roman-style granite pond, walkways, columns, fresco-like paintings and a stage portico for poetry recitations or small plays.

“Hopefully the far portico will be done in April,” said Jason Lichte, the LHS Latin teacher who is overseeing the project.

Lichte said the project has been funded with $9,500 in donations from local businesses and organizations, and a recent $3,000 grant from the Lawrence Schools Foundation.

“We have to spend a lot of money this year, or we lose it,” Lichte said.

‘Cave Leonem’

Sydney Seratte, 17, a senior at Lawrence High School and a member of the Latin Club, paints Thursday on a replica of the House

The 70-by-40-foot courtyard currently has a fountain donated by the Class of 1999, a deck, gardens and a small natural-style pond.

The latest work on the project involves taking out the gardens, remodeling the deck and constructing porticos and covered walkways along the courtyard walls.

“The covered walkways will make this look more like an ancient courtyard, like courtyards found in Pompeii,” Lichte said. A 4-by-7-foot rectangular Roman pond will also be built.

About 250 students, including members of the Latin Club, those taking Latin classes and several advanced art students, are involved in the project, Lichte said.

“I think they like it,” Lichte said. “Because instead of having to memorize Latin, some days they’re out here working. Also, they can figure out what it was like for ancient Romans to build things and all the processes they had to go through to make these things happen.”

Some of the students provide the brute strength for dirt work and construction. Art students in Wendy Vertacnik’s and Deena Amont’s classes are working on paintings and mosaics.

Lichte said there was a very common mosaic found on Pompeii’s doorsteps that said, in Latin, “Beware of the Dog.”

So the LHS students will create a mosaic on a walkway portico that says “Cave Leonem” which means “Beware of the Lion (LHS’s mascot),” Lichte said.

Toga central

Among the students involved is Jeremy Bell, who has done some of the custom construction work.

“It’s actually just starting to take off this year,” Bell said.

Another student leader of the project is Alyssa Lorenz, who toured the actual House of Vettii during a spring break trip last March and brought home photographs.

“It was pretty amazing to see it,” Lorenz said. “Now we can really see what we’re going to do.”

Lichte said students who went on the March trip will try to incorporate some of elements, such as fountains, at LHS.

“But we also want it to be a functional space,” he said.

For example, in April, LHS will host a Latin competition for Kansas Latin high school programs.

Opening and closing ceremonies will be held in the courtyard, and students will be able to speak on a stage area at one end, he said.

During that event, “all the students are in togas,” Lichte said. “You can’t get in without wearing a toga.”

Other functions will be for other LHS teachers to use the space for poetry recitations, small plays or just to study.

Lorenz said students were making a lot more progress this year and were working during seminars and during their free time.

But the project won’t be done for some time, Lichte said.

“If future generations of arts students want to come in to do more, there will always be something to do,” he said. “But hopefully we’ll get all the heavy construction done in the next two years.”