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Saint Mary’s completes greenhouse reconstruction

| Thursday, September 4, 2014

With the addition of a new and improved greenhouse facility, complete with state-of-the-art environmental control systems, the Saint Mary’s Science Hall now provides further opportunities for students to research and learn, assistant professor of biology Cassie Majetic said.

“[It] has a new airflow system, heating and cooling, a curtain system … vents that pop open and closed … and all of it’s automated,” Majetic said. “You can actually go into a computer program and set the parameters that you want, and the greenhouse will automatically do those things to control the environment within.”

20140902, Greenhouse, Christina RussoChristina Russo | The Observer
To maintain climate stability, the greenhouse has to account for external changes in weather that could impact internal conditions, director of facilities Benjamin Bowman said.

“There is a weather station mounted above the greenhouse to track outside conditions and control the way the greenhouse reacts based on the humidity and temperature outside,” Bowman said. “The greenhouse controls can notify via telephone message any conditions outside of the predetermined set points.”

Majetic said she can manually adjust the settings and run the greenhouse directly from her office, using a computer program connected to the controls.

In addition to the updated environmental system, the new greenhouse has larger facilities, including partitioned climate zones.

“The new space has … rolling benches so that we can accommodate more plant material and now we have three separate zones in the greenhouse, so that you can carry out multiple experiments under different environmental conditions,” Majetic said.

Additional plans for the space include adding grow lights at a later date, Bowman said.

Majetic said updates to the facility, which was originally built in 1956, were highly necessary because the old air conditioner “had not worked since the ’90s.”

With no temperature control, the biology department could not use the old greenhouse during the winter. Bowman said the Grounds Department utilized the old facility to prepare plant life to be placed around campus.

Majetic said the old greenhouse had a highly inefficient layout and no drains in the floors, which made it very difficult for the senior biology majors to conduct their experiments. The entire previous structure had to be torn down to make way for the new one.

“The biggest challenge [was] identifying and reacting to unforeseen conditions,” Bowman said. “We had to make changes to the sanitary sewer that left the new greenhouse because the existing sewer was not located where indicated on the existing drawings.”

The Science Steering Committee began the conceptual design for the new greenhouse in December 2012 and completed construction documents in February 2014, Bowman said.

In May 2014, a press release about the College’s “Faith Always, Action Now” fundraising campaign announced renovations to the Science Hall. Updating to a new greenhouse was the first of many projects to come for the Science Hall, with greenhouse construction beginning in May 2014 and ending by August.

To document the construction process over the summer, the College set up live camera overlooking the site. Throughout its construction, students, staff and faculty could access the feed to monitor the progress of the new greenhouse, Bowman said.

Faculty and student interest in the greenhouse is peaking as it grows closer to opening for use.

“I’m hoping, now that I have more space, to actually use [the greenhouse] to conduct experiments with classes,” Majetic said.

“I feel it will provide a better learning environment for our biology students,” Bowman said.

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About Tabitha Ricketts

As of this summer (2013), I hail from Clarkston, Michigan. I am a junior in the Saint Mary's College dual-degree engineering program, pursuing a degree in English Writing from Saint Mary's and Computer Science from the University of Notre Dame. I have written for the Saint Mary's News department of the Observer since my freshman year, and began working for Viewpoint last spring.

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