Plant Biology Greenhouse in conditions not up-to-date

By Ashley Zborek

The Plant Biology Greenhouse is in desperate need of a renovation but with no plans for improvement.

The greenhouse, one of several on campus, has several functions including class usage, student research, set-ups for university affiliated functions and community outreach.

Rocco Milano, a senior from Chicago studying plant and soil science and a greenhouse student worker, said he thinks the greenhouse is completely rundown.


“It’s totally dilapidated; It’s falling apart; the beams are rotted out; the glass panes keep breaking; it’s overcrowded; the benches need to be replaced — I can go on and on about the problems that the house has,” he said.

The greenhouse was originally constructed in the late 1940s for grounds department use. In 1950, an addition was built and eventually used by the department of plant biology, formerly known as the botany department.

Rich Cole, Plant Biology Greenhouse director, said the facility has had no improvements in nearly 50 years.

“The climate controls are extremely outdated. They are all manual, which means if the power goes out there is a possibility that everything could die,” he said.

Cole said many of the plants are irreplaceable, for reasons ranging from extreme age to country of origin.

“If something goes wrong, then that’s it. We have no back-up plan,” Cole said.

Today, more than 11 classes and several research groups use the greenhouse, and it is open for the community to walk through.


Dan Nickrent, plant biology professor, said the current greenhouse is not capable of facilitating all it is meant to.

“There are so many improvements to be made but no money to make them,” he said.

Nickrent said he has been trying for several years to raise money for the greenhouse.

Cole said this is the worst situation the greenhouse has ever been in.

“When I first started working here over 20 years ago, I had three full-time staff members and five student workers,” he said. “Now we can only afford one other staff member and three student employees.”

Cole said he does not blame the university, and he said he knows they have a list of priorities and a budget to go by. He said he wishes there was something more he could do.

“Right now the plants are just living; Under better conditions they would be able to thrive,” he said.

Milano said it is a shame conditions are so bad. He said they have an amazing collection of plants, including anything that could be found in the St. Louis botanical gardens.

“People could really utilize this building to their benefit. Plants are proven to help depression, anxiety and relieve stress,” he said.

Nickrent said upgrades are imperative for the greenhouse to meet the demands of a present-day plant biology facility.

“There are so many advances that need to be made and plant biology is more important to modern society than ever before,” he said.

He said he would like to collaborate with the College of Agricultural Sciences to build a new greenhouse and conservatory.

“Both greenhouses are in dire need of a renovation, and I think now is the time for us to join together,” he said.