Spring Harbor Middle School's New Greenhouse Project Will Grow Minds and Produce, Too

by Lucy Ji, age 17

Previously just the glimmer of an idea, Spring Harbor Middle School’s very own greenhouse will soon become a reality. David Ropa, Spring Harbor’s seventh grade science teacher, is the man behind it all.

David Ropa has taught at Spring Harbor for over 13 years. His goals have always been to encourage kids to enjoy science, spend time outside, and study the natural world around them. The greenhouse is a unique opportunity to supplement his teaching in a hands-on way.

In 2011, Spring Harbor received a partial grant of $9,500 from the Foundation of Madison Public Schools to begin construction. The total budget was estimated to be around $95,000. After almost four years, countless grants, fundraisers and other corporate contributions, the Spring Harbor Community has reached their goal.

Groundbreaking on the project took place on October 5, 2012. The entire school was present for the ceremony and each homeroom was allowed to put a shovel into the ground. Last fall, the foundation was poured and electricity, water, gas and Internet lines were connected. Truly a community effort, construction students from Madison Colleges installed all of the main framework and trusses.

The grant specifies that the greenhouse must be built entirely from recycled or reclaimed materials. Another community goal was for the new building to be entirely self-sustaining. To address this, the building will have a biomass heating system and straw-clay insulation while photovoltaic panels will be used to generate electricity. Rain will be collected and gathered by an integrated rain barrel system for use in the gardens and any excess water will overflow into a pond in front of the greenhouse.

A special brick oven will be built in front of the green house for the students to use. This oven will be so efficient that once it has been fired up, it will remain warm enough to cook for 24 hours. Ropa encourages neighborhood families to use the oven during the summer months.

Finally, “to highlight the relationship between sunlight, nutrients and plants in aquatic environments, we will also construct an aquaponics system that uses native fish species such as bluegill and crappie to grow greens such as Swiss chard and collard greens,” said Ropa.

After the greenhouse is finished, it will be used as a classroom. "The greenhouse will enhance what I do because I'll have more opportunities for the kids to get their hands dirty, literally,” explained Ropa. All of Spring Harbor’s teachers will be able to hold classes in the building year-round, bringing their students closer to nature without traveling far from the classroom. Students will be able to conduct experiments for class, as well as for the annual Spring Harbor Environmental Conference, and tend to the plants growing inside. The outdoor classroom will include a mulched seating area, tables and benches, a washing station and a smaller portable gas grill.

Before the greenhouse was created, there were summer gardening programs at the school for students. There are four sessions each summer, where the first two involve planting and tending to the plants, and the latter sessions focus on harvesting.      

“Mr. Ropa plans the gardens so that something is ripe during each of the classes, and everyday we have a snack from the harvest. We had raspberry and strawberry smoothies one day, and on another, we had a vegetable stir fry,” said Katharine, a seventh grader at Spring Harbor, who eagerly shared her experiences about the program with Sustainable Times newspaper. At the end of the day, each student gets to choose from a range of freshly picked produce, including kale, bell peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes to take home.

This greenhouse will benefit the community, as well as each and every one of the students who attend Spring Harbor. As a former Spring Harbor student, I am very eager to see this project completed.

[Sources: Sustainable Times; Interview with David Ropa]

Good article about a great house! Thanks for sharing. – Kelly CookJMM High School (2014-05-19 14:14)