CHAMPAIGN - Parkland College agriculture and science teachers have hoped to build a greenhouse at the Champaign community college for 20 years.
Finally, their dreams may be close to coming true. The latest round of greenhouse planning started in earnest about three years ago with a contest to design something useful to occupy huge holes adjacent to the college buildings, but the project has evolved into plans for a more practical and spacious facility at Parkland's Tony Noel Center.
Planners hope to build the long-awaited greenhouse in time for classes this fall, although plans are still changing and sources of money aren't yet absolutely defined. However, officials say they're optimistic about finding supporters for the initial structure, which would cost about $100,000, and they say they're also making plans for additional construction phases like a classroom and laboratory and storage area.
Larry Thurow, Parkland's associate vice president for academic services, said he hopes to see at least the greenhouse part of the project built by fall.
?Physically it will be laid out on the west side of the Tony Noel Center, attached to it,? Thurow said. ?We're looking at a greenhouse, and then we're looking at phases to attach class space and storage.?
?A greenhouse gives students access to live plant material year around,? he said. ?It opens up lots of opportunities, and that's important to students. We don't want to be limited to seasonal access.?
Bruce Henrikson, an agriculture teacher involved in the planning, said he's found information in the college's greenhouse planning files that dates back 20 years.
?The original idea was to get a grant, working with life sciences, and to build it on the L-Wing,? Henrikson said. ?In those days, we didn't have the introduction to horticulture classes or a landscape design degree that we have today. But the grant didn't come through.?
The idea revived about three years ago when a University of Illinois architecture faculty member challenged students to design something to fill in huge holes in several locations on the Parkland campus adjacent to buildings. The holes once held cooling system components that were removed when the campus converted to a new system.
?You can't fill them in because they allow access to some equipment,? Henrikson said. ?We suggested to one student that he design a greenhouse on top of our hole, which is about 30-by-20 feet in size and 12 feet deep. He won the contest, and we got motivated.?
About the same time, contractors started building the Tony Noel Agricultural Technology Center and after talking to biology teachers about their needs, Henrikson looked at the possibility of building the greenhouse there.
?The biology people need temperature and humidity controls, so we decided to build it in three sections,? Henrikson said. ?Each will have their own controls and ventilation.?
Current plans call for building a 30-by-75-foot building and Henrikson said it would make sense to build a headhouse, for greenhouse storage, and a classroom and laboratory at the same time. Architects are working on the plans now, and Parkland Foundation head Carl Meyer is looking for private donations to underwrite the project. No official cost estimates are available yet.
Henrikson said the greenhouse will be planned to be the same type of construction as the Noel Center but more informal, more like a laboratory.
He said biology and life sciences instructors will be able to grow plants for student work in the greenhouse. Agriculture instructors will teach and demonstrate plant propagation, weed identification, crop cultivation, germination, growth, fertility and other subjects in the greenhouse.
?They'll be able to grow weeds, crops and ornamental plants for identification purposes,? said University of Illinois Extension educator Sandy Mason, who's in charge of Extension's Master Gardeners program. She said Parkland representatives asked her if her gardening students would have uses for a greenhouse like the one they were planning.
?We said, ?Absolutely!'? Mason said. ?We can use a greenhouse especially for things like advanced training and continuing education. Gardeners are always interested in hands-on activities. Plant propagating classes would be the biggest thing. We teach a series of five classes about different methods, and we go to the UI greenhouses now, but it's hard to schedule because of the classes there. Parkland would be more convenient.?
About 300 people have completed the Master Gardeners program since it was started in 1992, and about 100 graduates are very active in it.
Henrikson said the greenhouse will be used mainly for instruction, not for plant production, although students may grow lilies or poinsettias there to sell.
He said it will make Parkland more competitive with other community colleges at Mattoon, Danville and other locations where greenhouses are already part of the program.
?A number of high schools in the area also have them,? Henrikson said. ?There's one at Monticello, Rantoul's planning to build one, and PBL's had a greenhouse for years.?
?That's one of the issues we in agriculture face,? he said. ?We feel pressure. We have students coming into our programs from high schools that have greenhouses, and they want to know what we have to offer them.?