By Bobbie Hanstein • Jun 13th, 2010
On Saturday, about 100 or so volunteers helped assemble a geodesic Growing Dome Greenhouse at Jay Middle School in Maine.
The design and grant funding for the geodesic dome greenhouse at Jay Middle School is thanks to two 14-year-old students. The actual construction of the 22-foot-radius wood and translucent triangular structure this weekend is thanks to the 100 or so volunteers and the community’s donation of materials and labor.
Last fall in Robert Taylor’s geometry class, eighth-grade students Dustin Jones and Erik Taylor decided to figure out how to build a geodesic dome, which utilizes a series of connected triangles that all lean in to support one another, as a unit project. After successfully constructing and strength testing a scale model of a dome using toothpicks and gummy bears, they applied for and received a $4,000 Service Learning Grant. The grant, funded by Time Warner Cable and the Maine Commission for Community Service, allowed for the purchase of a geodesic dome greenhouse kit as an extension of the students’ geometry class design project.
On Saturday, an army of parents, teachers, students, and community volunteers all armed with hammers, screw guns and shovels, worked through the day to assemble the geodesic dome kit purchased through Growing Spaces of Colorado. The ultimate plan is for students to grow vegetables year round under the dome for the schools’ cafeteria fare.
Volunteer Ron Ridley of Jay, works at the top of the greenhouse dome to install the translucent triangles.
“This project will benefit the whole school community,” Marie Jones said between sprinting back and forth to help keep things moving on the project end. Her son, Dustin Jones, is one of the two initiators of the dome project. Dustin, she said, learned a great deal beyond the important classroom work with this project.
“It’s given him a vision of what can be possible through his work,” Marie Jones said. “And this is something that will be used and enjoyed for years to come.”
Five schools in Maine, including Jay Middle School, were awarded a $4,000 grant for innovative projects that combine critical thinking and community participation with academics, said Michael Ashmore, a grant programs officer with the Maine Commission for Community Service. The grant is awarded to schools that focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education integration.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to use advanced math, science, engineering and more,” Ashmore said of the grant project. “And it’s great to see such a big turnout with kids working alongside adults.”
The domed greenhouse built on the south side of the middle school will provide more space than the small, energy inefficient niche that the school currently uses for the many plant-related projects at the middle school.
Watching the volunteers hoist each polycarbonate triangle into its wooden frame, Dustin Jones smiled.
“This is the fun part. The class stuff wasn’t bad, but this is the big shebang. I’m enjoying it,” he said adding, once the dome is construction is completed, automatic vent openers, raised beds and a solar-powered cooling system using duct work beneath the beds to keep the air flowing so the greenhouse won’t overheat will need to be installed. Teacher Robert Taylor said students will be helping with those installations as part of science classroom work this fall.
“There will be a lot to do this fall,” he said, “and they’ll learn by doing.”
Teacher Robert Taylor, at center in the green shirt, looks over the polycarbonate glazing ready to be installed in the dome greenhouse.
Along with all of the volunteer help this weekend, donations of another sort flowed in. Taylor asked Tim DiMillo, co-owner of Howie’s Welding and Fabrication in Jay, for help in finding a metal tank big enough to hold 900 gallons of water. The tank of water, or thermal mass, is needed to ensure a consistent warmth will be radiated even through the coldest winter night. Not finding anything used, DiMillo custom built a black metal tank and donated it to the project. Students spent a good part of Saturday digging a hole to partially submerge the tank in the center of the dome.
The town’s highway department helped build the dome’s foundation, with a donation of materials and labor to the project. The Colorado dome kit company discounted the price for the kit and other help is coming through Maine’s agriculture license plate program towards funding the educational aspect of learning how to grow vegetables in a greenhouse once it’s competed.
None of this could have happened without the dedication of the students and their parents, Taylor said.
“This group of students has great parents. There were a lot of people to depend on for this and a lot of expertise to help out,” he said.
“To see it all come together is a real pay off,” Dustin Jones added.