CBS to build new conservatory to replace outdated building

The groundbreaking of the new building will be on Oct. 12

The College of Biological Sciences Conservatory as seen on Monday, Sept. 10 in St. Paul. Construction for a new conservatory begins in October.

Image by Courtney Deutz

The College of Biological Sciences Conservatory as seen on Monday, Sept. 10 in St. Paul. Construction for a new conservatory begins in October.

by Nikki Pederson

The University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences is preparing for a new and improved conservatory and greenhouse.

The new building will cost roughly $6 million and will be located in the middle of the Plant Growth Facilities on the St. Paul campus. The groundbreaking is planned for Oct. 12, and the building will be open to the public next summer.

With over 1,200 species of plants, the conservatory includes the most diverse collection of plants in the upper Midwest, and services the needs of classes, researchers and the surrounding community by making those plants available to the public and researchers. 

“It’s … one of the only places in the region where people can experience plants from all over the world,” said Lisa Aston Philander, the curator of the conservatory.

While CBS received $4.4 million from the state, they are still raising the remaining $2.1 million needed to fully fund the project. The proposed facility would include 6,700 square feet of glass space for growing plants and a small area for offices and labs.  

Built in the early 1970s, the current CBS Conservatory is “old, battered and structurally deficient,” said Peter Tiffin, head of the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. A new facility is needed for reducing maintenance and to provide a better opportunity for visitors to appreciate the collection, he said. 

But it’s for more than just aesthetic reasons that a new building is needed — glass windows in the greenhouse are frequently breaking because of the building’s age.

“Having glass break all the time is not just a safety concern,” Tiffin said. “Plants can die.”

The conservatory houses rare and endangered plants, some of which are extinct in the wild, Koebler said. And since the heating and cooling system is old, maintaining the temperatures of the delicate plants is extremely difficult and takes a lot of energy, said Angie Koebler, a conservatory coordinator.

The internal structure of the new conservatory will also differ from the current building, with one-third of the building dedicated to a continuous visitors experience where the public can walk among the plants and the remaining two-thirds purposed for the research collection,  Philander said. The conservatory will be split into four different biomes, which is two fewer than the current building has. 

While there won’t be as many biomes, the new building will make up for it in the quality of care for the plants, Philander said. 

“We feel we can maintain a larger collection with better environmental controls that the new facility will provide us,” she said.