Davis Bay Elementary has a new addition beside its back parking lot – a 1,500 sq. foot (139 sq. metre) greenhouse, built mostly by community volunteers, and lots of elementary school students.
“It’s been cool to see the greenhouse rise up,” said one student after watering some of the crops – tomatoes, peas, lettuce, among others – nestled in raised boxes. “Where it used to be just gravel laid out here, then slowly the skeleton, then we put over the tarps and built the beds. It was pretty cool to watch.”
The project began after a parent donated the structure in 2015, and through a Community Foundations Growing Green Project grant. With those pieces in place, Ted Chisholm, Community School coordinator at Davis Bay Elementary, expected the project to be finished in a year. Not so. “It’s been a way bigger a process than I ever contemplated or imagined it would be,” he said.
The project cost about $90,000 in grants, fundraising and in-kind contributions. A Community Forest Legacy Grant provided solar panels on a nearby outbuilding, which feeds power to the greenhouse and to the grid, with the aim of being carbon neutral. Parents and other volunteers helped install the walls and ceiling that open and close automatically to maintain a constant temperature.
While similar projects are underway in the district, nothing approaches the scale of this greenhouse. Overseeing a project of this scope was also a first for Chisholm.
“What can look like a brick wall often isn’t when you engage people,” he said of lessons learned.
For starters, the District of Sechelt building inspector had “a little bit of a meltdown,” when approached about using the greenhouse as a learning space, since it would require the same level of service as regular classrooms. “That was going to add significant expense,” he said.
“I just kept having conversations with the building inspector … and he totally over time came on board and really helped us.” The greenhouse has since been outfitted with benches a table and whiteboard.
Students have been involved from the start. One class learned Pythagorean theorem to set the corner pins. They dug, used drills to fasten wood to steel, built benches, assembled boxes, moved stones to build walls and are now planting and watering. Going forward, students are expected to learn about seed saving, soil replenishing, food waste and delivery.
Plans are in the works to deliver fresh produce to the food bank, and to distribute harvested crops to classes, among other ideas.
Despite the slower-than-expected pace of the project – and now the constant watering required – the enthusiasm among students is palpable.
“I look at the greenhouse as a body. The tarp being the skin, the bars being the skeleton and the plants inside being the vital organs,” said one student. According to him and others gathered around the table in the greenhouse to speak with Coast Reporter, those organs are thriving – aside from a few minor setbacks.
“Over the last two or three weeks we’ve had an experience with the mites,” said one student. They were overrun with them after planting, but a volunteer gardener tipped them off with a fix that’s been working so far – marigolds. “They supposedly drive them away,” he said. And they haven’t seen many since.
A celebration is slated for Friday, June 14. The Grade 7 class chose gardening as the theme for their leaving ceremony in the coming weeks.