Science, technology, engineering and math took center stage Saturday as Jay Middle School students and about 100 volunteers erected a 22-foot-diameter geodesic dome to grow produce year-round for the school cafeteria and an area food pantry.
“It’s more than just a springtime greenhouse,” Jay Middle School teacher Rob Taylor said of the Growing Spaces LLC kit purchased in Pagosa Springs, Colo., with money from grants initially written by school children.
“It’s really a permaculture structure, so the idea is that in the middle of February, we’ll have crops out here, we hope,” Taylor said.
To get money for the project, middle-schoolers Erik Taylor, Rob’s son, and Dustin Jones wrote a grant and secured $4,000 from Time Warner Cable, which provided the funding as part of its science and technology initiative, “Connect a Million Minds.”
Another $4,000 came from grants, Rob Taylor said, and he’s written one more that he hopes to land to pay off the remainder and have money for equipment to use inside the greenhouse.
Time Warner launched its Connect a Million Minds program to introduce young people to opportunities and resources that inspire them to develop the science, technology, engineering and math skills needed to become problem-solvers of the future.
Students did all of the research and math to build the structure. They engineered and built miniature geodesic dome models with toothpicks and gummy bears, and with hot glue and toothpicks, which were then tested for strength.
They also built paper domes, labeling every triangular panel to help guide Saturday’s builders.
“Just figuring out the math of the dome is enough for a whole year’s worth of geometry,” said Michael Ashmore, grant programs officer with the Maine Commission for Community Service, as he watched volunteers affix polycarbonate triangle panels to the wooden foundation and framework assembled earlier by five teams of students.
“All the pentagons and hexagons — they built everything and we’re really fundamental in getting the thing constructed,” Taylor said.
“Everything in the structure repeats itself five times,” he said. “There’s five pentagons, then five hexagons, and then they just keep repeating themselves. There’s 15 sections of walls, so we made five teams and each team built three sections, so we put those together and then they built their pentagons and put those on, so the kids were very, very instrumental.”
The project began to take shape last month when the Jay Public Works Department excavated and built a base for the dome using $1,500 worth of labor and materials, including a layer of free, recycled glass gravel from Portland that was tumbled to remove sharp edges. A layer of stone dust was then placed atop it, Taylor said.
With the framework completed, several men moved a donated, large metal tank into a depression shoveled out by students. When the dome is completed, the tank will be filled with 900 gallons of water, which will collect heat during the day and serve as a radiator at night, keeping plants warm during the winter, Ashmore said.
The structure self-vents as certain temperatures are reached. One side of the polycarbonate panels are glazed to reflect ultraviolet light, Taylor said.
“The whole key with a greenhouse structure is, you let infrared light come in — I hope I get this right — from the sun, which is shorter wavelength infrared light, and shorter wavelength means it has more power, so it gets through,” he said.
“But then when the ground and the tank heat up, it re-emits longer wavelength infrared which can’t get through the (polycarbonate), so that’s the ‘greenhouse effect.’ It’s the same thing that happens in our atmosphere.
“So, we can teach a bit of science with this, too,” he said. “It’s a great learning experience for the kids who are working on it.”
Taylor wasn’t sure what types of produce the students would grow.
“But, I’ve got to tell you that I’m really looking forward towards the day when I go to the salad bar at school and it says, ‘Green beans grown in the dome,'” he said. “I’m really looking forward to that.”