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Hingham High's greenhouse moves forward, but needs more money

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  September 28, 2010 12:27 PM

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Dana Crosby stood in front of the School Committee Monday night and gestured to the screen behind her. A projection of the building plans for Hingham High School's greenhouse lit up the screen, showing a brick and aluminum building tucked into the front right corner of the school across from the baseball fields.

“It’s been a long road, trying to figure out how to turn this idea into a reality, but today I’m here to present you with the progress that we’ve made, and hope that you will continue to support us in this endeavor,” Crosby, a HHS science teacher, told the committee.

Crosby has been at this for a while. It began in the spring of 2009, when Crosby, other science teachers, and their students applied for and won a $20,000 grant in a national contest sponsored by National Geographic and SunChips. They planned to use the money to build a greenhouse for the high school.

But they soon came to realize a greenhouse costs a lot more than $20,000.

“Right now, we have a budget of about $95,000, and that’s including all site work, bringing gas to the building, bringing electrical to the building, bringing lighting in there, and purchasing the actual kit itself, or the top piece of the structure,” said Jeff Tompkins, the architect for the project and the father of a Hingham High student.

The cost for the top part alone ranges from $22,000 to $25,000, Tompkins said, an amount that itself exceeds the initial grant money.

Although the town will not be providing any funds to build the 27-foot by 21-foot greenhouse, the large price tag came with many concerns, the first of which was the $5,000 annual operating budget.

“Would you be looking for operating costs in the future, or would you be self-sufficient?” asked Esther Healey.

“I think being self-sufficient is somewhat of an option, if we were to do plant sales, but looking at the overall cost of the school, it’s somewhat minimal,” Crosby said.

David Killroy, director of business and support services at Hingham schools, agreed.

“The cost of metering, minimal water use, and utility use…I think it’s a nominal square footage. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of [increase in school budget],” he said.

The committee also raised concerns about potential vandalism of the property, issues that were immediately quelled by the presenters.

“It’s no different than the windows of the building. No one throws rocks at those. And also the fact that the kids are involved in this self-polices them,” Tompkins said.

The greenhouse will also use a polycarbonate panel instead of glass, something that is not only a more cost-effective option, as it releases less heat, but a hardier one as well.

According to Crosby and other science teachers in the audience, a greenhouse would facilitate the students' education. Discussion about plant propagation, photosynthesis experiments, and a deeper understanding of environmental sciences would all be possible with the project.

“Students are ecstatic about having hands-on experience before they arrive on campus their freshman year of college,” said the president of student council, Kathryn Thompson.

From here, Crosby and other teachers are hoping to get the project under way. Having received School Committee approval for the location of the greenhouse, Crosby plans to compile more concrete numbers for the project so that they can start requesting donations.

In addition, student council is making it their mission to raise $12,000, an amount they hope can be matched by another donor.

According to Dorothy Galo, the superintendent for Hingham schools, the teachers also hope to supplement some of the costs by requesting help from local contractors, who would perhaps complete some of the project at a lesser or at no cost.

“I love the idea, and I applaud you for it. I think with all of this, it turned into something larger than you anticipated,'' said Christine Smith, a School Committee member. "But that it’s student-focused and student-led, I think that’s phenomenal."

Although Crosby does not plan on starting any construction until all the money has been raised, she hopes the greenhouse will be ready by the spring.

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