MOUNT DESERT — The new greenhouse at Mount Desert Elementary School will contain much more than plants; it will hold what school officials see as almost limitless opportunities for learning and developing life skills.
Along with the school’s outdoor gardens, the greenhouse will provide organic greens and other vegetables for the cafeteria.
The greenhouse is located on the school grounds across Joy Road from the Northeast Harbor Library. It will be opened officially with a ribbon cutting ceremony Sept. 24 at 4:45 p.m. as part of the school’s fall open house and just before its annual barbecue.
Having a greenhouse has long been a goal of Principal Scott McFarland. A committee of parents and other community members has spent several years researching, planning and raising money for the project. The cost of the 18-by-32-foot greenhouse was about $50,000, including site preparation, installation, plumbing, electricity and heat. The $15,000 cypress frame was purchased from Gothic Arch Greenhouses of Mobile, Ala.
McFarland said the greenhouse will be a science classroom and laboratory where students can conduct experiments and learn how plants grow. It also will be available to other classes.
“For example, the art class could come out and use it as a space to draw,” he said.
Two of the school’s ed techs, Erin Donovan and Julie Taylor, are the garden and greenhouse coordinators. Both took the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s master gardener volunteer course last winter.
“Our goal is to incorporate the gardens into the curriculum and the food program here as much as possible,” Taylor said.
Donovan said the greenhouse would “extend the growing season from what we can do in the [outdoor] garden. We want to be pulling carrots and spinach and other cold crops in the middle of December and giving them to the cafeteria.”
McFarland emphasized that building the greenhouse has been a community effort. The Stroud Fund of the Parish of St. Mary and St. Jude in Northeast Harbor gave the school a $20,000 grant for the project. The Garden Club of Mount Desert contributed $10,000.
Bob Falt of Falt Builders in Northeast Harbor donated much of the labor for assembling the greenhouse.
“He’s had a crew here for a month doing this for nothing,” McFarland said. “It’s one thing to give money – not that money isn’t nice – but this is a real gift, to dedicate your crew and your own time to it.”
He credited Jessie Greenbaum, chairman of the school’s garden and greenhouse committee, with “stepping up, keeping this dream alive and pushing it to this point.”
Greenbaum is a graduate of College of the Atlantic, where she worked in the community gardens.
“I saw how much one can learn by being in a garden,” she said. “I also have enjoyed gardens aesthetically and found them to be places of healing and sanctuary from the stresses in modern lifestyle.”
McFarland said the school’s garden and greenhouse will help prepare some students for the kinds of caretaking jobs that are available on Mount Desert Island, so they won’t have to leave to find work.
“If you want to be a gardener, there are a lot of opportunities for kids to make a good salary and be able to stay local,” he said.