CENTERBURG — A project years in the making at Centerburg High School finally came to fruition Sunday afternoon, as the students and community came together to witness the grand opening of the new greenhouse. The opening celebrated the project’s fundamental purpose, as a place for FFA students to study hands-on plant science, and took the time to thank the Centerburg community for making it happen.
The greenhouse was first pitched to the board in 2014 by three then-sophomore FFA members, Agriculture teacher and FFA adviser Matt Weade told the News. The students, Hannah Stottsberry, Mackenzie Webb and Mckenzie Altizer, all CHS class of 2016 graduates, returned to their roots Sunday to participate in the grand opening and cut the ceremonial blue and gold ribbon.
“When we started it, we didn’t really think it would all come true, it was all just something that would be fun for the generations to come,” Stottsberry explained. “But then our senior year, things started getting going and we heard that this would be real and it all just set it, this could be a great fundraising opportunity, a great leadership opportunity and a way to teach the younger kids real life applications.”
Stottsberry explained that she, Altizer and Webb pitched the greenhouse project their sophomore year of high school as part of an in-class project the three completed and presented in their agriculture class. She said they presented everything from the lay-out of the greenhouse to the air-filtration system.
“It was all up to the board to decide if they liked the project and thought it would be cost efficient,” she said. “And to decided if it would benefit our community and our students.”
Stottsberry said that the community has opportunities to get involved with the greenhouse, with the many fundraisers that are run through the school, including fruit sales and mum and plant sales.
Weade explained that this greenhouse is “one of the most high-tech in this part of the country.” The brand new structure is completely automatic and runs through an iPad, he said. It’s set up so that everything in the greenhouse is run automatically, including barometric pressure, humidity, moisture and a weather station can control UV rays, he said.
A box in the middle of the greenhouse is the brains of the operation, Weade said. If it gets too cold, the heat will kick on with a natural gas heater, and if it gets too warm, it will open vents or kick on an evaporative cooler, which will evaporate water to cool down the structure.
The greenhouse will also have its own IP address, meaning that the operations of the facility are completely mobile, Weade explained. As long as he has Internet access, he can check all of the settings from anywhere in the world, he said. Anyone in the network can also access the IP address, he said, which means that students can access it and check all of the conditions of the greenhouse.
The greenhouse project broke ground in May and was completed Nov. 1, Weade explained. However, for him, it has been a project that he has been working to implement since he began in the district eight years ago.
“It’s an awesome tool,” Weade said. “The way I look at it, anymore in my Ag program, I don’t have many farmers. But we’re still doing agriculture, it’s kind of the new science. A lot of urban ag is going to the greenhouse, farm to table, you hear all of those terms all the time, so the greenhouse is just a tool that hopefully I can use to teach the kids possibly another career, and it also makes teaching plant science so much easier.”
Weade told the News that plant science is a part of his program’s content standards with the state. The greenhouse, he said, will allow his students to go out and see first-hand start to finish the process of plant growing, which provides real life applications, as opposed to just textbook theory.
“It was a wonderful gift from our community,” Weade said. “It will do nothing but help the program, and already I have non-ag kids coming out here and checking it out. It’s a really cool tool and really fun place to be. It’s one more tool that I get to have that let’s kids be hands-on. We have the shop, that’s a huge draw for kids, and now we have the greenhouse. I think it will do nothing but increase the quality of the what we’re able to do.”
Superintendent Mike Hebenthal explained that the project was funded through a bond issue levy, along with the new track and softball fields. The greenhouse project cost an estimated $800,000, he said.
The greenhouse allows for more hands-on educational learning opportunities, Hebenthal explained, which extends into other academic regions than just agriculture.
“We were looking for more hands-on stuff for the kids, and everything is pushing academics, which it should, but with the state pushing for testing, we wanted kids to be able to use their hands also,” Hebenthal said. “The Ag program has been growing quite a bit, so we hired another teacher [Kim Weiss]. And the greenhouse can also be used for business opportunities for kids to learn entrepreneurship, and just about everybody’s going to want to do yard work at some point, and you need to learn how to landscape.”
The greenhouse grand opening allowed the community to come together to witness and celebrate the future of the ag program at Centerburg High School with door prizes, a raffle, food, free plants and a fruit sale.
“Just again, I want to make sure to thank the community, because they had to vote for it and it was a pretty tight vote, really,” Weade said. “A huge thank you to Centerburg, to the school board, because they listened to us. Thank you to the community and the administration, hopefully this is a tool that we can give to the community and use for a fundraiser. The whole thing is to benefit the whole community.”