Regents seek renovation funds for U greenhouses

by Maggie Hessel-Mial

The St. Paul campus might see an improvement in its greenhouses by September 2002 due to the Board of Regents’ commitment to provide the necessary funds.

Last week the Regents proposed to request $18.7 million from the Legislature for the project.

“The University goes to the Legislature with a prioritized list of projects that need funding,” said Fred Clayton of Facilities Management, a member of the design team for the greenhouse project. “The Legislature will then decide how much money they are willing to allocate to those projects.”

The colleges of Biological Sciences, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences all use the greenhouses.

The colleges involved hope the greenhouses will receive funding close to the figure proposed because the project is a high priority on the University’s list, Clayton said.

The greenhouses, now used to full capacity by students and researchers, were built in the 1920s. Many fail to meet current design regulations set by Minnesota statutes regulating pesticide and fertilizer use.

“The design of the greenhouses outdates the regulations,” said greenhouse manager Dann Adair. “With the buildings as they are, we can’t do certain kinds of research.”

Aside from the research issue, Clayton said he believes that much of the concern about the lack of compliance with the environmental statutes is an overreaction.

“We’re always not in compliance because the regulations are constantly changing and the greenhouses were built before the regulations were made,” he said. “But, when this project is finished and the buildings are done, all regulations from the state will be met.”

The University first requested money from the Legislature for this purpose in the 2000 session. Then, a new art building had priority, and the greenhouse project received only $5.9 million – an amount less than needed for the renovations.

To deal with this lack of initial funding, the University divided the project into two phases, designating the most important needs to be addressed first in Phase I, with the remaining issues to be dealt with in Phase II when the rest of the funding is expected to be allocated.

Research was deemed most important and was included in Phase I, slated to begin this summer. A part of this phase is the study of exotic insects brought over from other parts of the world to aid in the removal of pests that affect plant life in the greenhouses. The study is necessary in the search for an alternative to pesticides that can be harmful to the environment, said Adair.

“To do this kind of research now, we would have to go to Montana,” he said, citing the lack of proper facilities in Minnesota.

Phase I includes creating a high-security containment facility to study these insects without spreading them into the area unnecessarily.

“The federal government is strict on what insects can be brought into the country to control major agricultural and ecological problems,” he said.

With the appropriate funds, an HSCF can be built to control the study.

“This kind of research will help the entire Midwest,” Adair added.

Phase II of the study will focus on improving the learning environment of the greenhouses on campus.

“Phase II really hits on all of our needs,” Clayton said. “It includes more teaching space, classrooms and additional room for research.”

While no additional greenhouse square footage will be added, the greenhouse space will be renovated and more efficiently designed to fully accommodate students, Adair said.

If the Regent’s proposal is approved, the University should see funding after the 2002 legislative session.

Many from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences are looking forward to the renovations, said the college’s director of communications, Lora Berg.

“This project will greatly increase teaching capacity for horticulture students,” she said. “This will improve overall health and safety for students in the greenhouses as well.”


Maggie Hessel-Mial covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected]