Delayed funds leaves greenhouse to rot

By Gus Bode

College of Agricultural Sciences’ faculty and staff say although their greenhouse is in major need of repairs, they try their hardest to provide students with the best hands-on-learning experience possible.

Brian Klubek, chair of the plant, soil science and agricultural systems department, said the greenhouse located behind the College of Agriculture hasn’t seen the maintenance it needs to operate.

“We’re at the point now where the wood frame is beginning to rot, and although we have some metal beams to help hold the structure in place, it’s only a matter of time before the structure begins to collapse,” Klubek said.

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The greenhouse was built in 1956 and offers students in the plant and soil science department a chance to work with plants and agricultural tools they may see in the workforce. It services classes such as horticulture and weed science and is also used for research.

Klubek said the state of Illinois has allocated nearly $1 million in deferred maintenance funds for those renovations.

Todd Winters, interim dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, said money was allocated to the college for greenhouse repairs several years ago but  has not been received because of the state’s current economic situation. He said a plan of how the money for renovations will be distributed has not been developed.

Amy Boren, professor in the plant, soil and agricultural systems department and SIU alumna, has been teaching horticulture for more than 20 years and said the greenhouse’s conditions were not up-to-date when she was a student and have only become worse.

Ryan Dwyer, a freshman from Mokena studying forestry, weeds plant beds Tuesday in the teaching greenhouse. Dwyer has been working in the greenhouse during the semester to gain credit hours toward his degree. Amy Boren, a professor in the plant and soil science department, said the 55-year-old greenhouse is in need of many upgrades.

“In industry, we would expect to have uniform conditions. We have different light levels, different temperatures and uneven heat. Can we grow plants? It’s a challenge, but we can,” Boren said.

She said more than 15 classes in the College of Agriculture Sciences use the teaching greenhouse, and students and faculty face many dangers every time they enter the facility.

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Boren said the rotting wood and glass often cause problems during inclement weather. She said the roof leaks and glass panes sometimes fall out of place, which is hazardous.

“It’s like a lab; we want it to be safe for all students,” Boren said. “The top vents do not open automatically, or if they do, the glass slides. When it breaks it comes down in sharp shards. If those pieces come down it could cause a lot of injury.”

Afton Salata, greenhouse manager and graduate student studying plant, soil and agricultural systems, said she is responsible for task delegation to greenhouse workers and oversees the facility.

Along with other student workers, she said she spends much of her time making minor adjustments and ensuring safe conditions. Salata said students are not able to devote as much time to their studies in the greenhouse because of the conditions.

She said it is difficult to manage plants under the circumstances because the facility is not a controlled environment.

“When it rains we can’t control watering because of the leaking, and no one can be in here due to pane glass sliding. It’s really hard to monitor insect control due to the space in between the glass and rotting wood,” Salata said.

Salata said she is not only concerned about how the conditions impact the quality of her education, but she is worried her lack of experience with new technologies will impact her in the workforce.

“When I graduate I will have to get used to how a modern greenhouse works. If I were to get a job at a modern greenhouse, I would have no idea how to work in good conditions,” Salata said.

Faculty and staff in the college are in the beginning stages of fundraising for an additional greenhouse as money for the renovation of the current facility waits.

The new greenhouse is projected to cost nearly $4.5 million, and $500,000 has already been raised.

PotashCorp, one of the world’s largest fertilizer companies, donated $250,000 and the Illinois Soybean Association contributed the same amount from its checkoff dollars — a percentage of revenue generated by soybean growers — toward the new greenhouse.

Rebecca Stenhaug, associate director for institutional advancement in the College of Agricultural Sciences, said she will help gather private donations for the new greenhouse.

“We’ve seen delays in state funding in general. The leadership board and the faculty have initiated some priority initiatives in the college as a whole, and the undergraduate greenhouse was identified as a priority for the college,” Stenhaug said.

She said the greenhouse is a core-learning laboratory for the department and it has no modern technology, so the goal is to build a greenhouse that incorporates new technologies.

Klubek said though students are not getting the best, they should because of the lack of technology in the greenhouse due to current economic constraints, the college is supporting students through other learning techniques.

“We do as best we can to try and keep everybody safe … and provide them with up-to-date technology in the classroom rather than the greenhouse,” Klubek said.

 

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