Students at Cleveland Public School may soon have new ways to learn about energy, the environment and plant life.
At a board meeting on Feb. 8, the Cleveland School Board held discussions on separate proposals to install solar panels and a greenhouse on school grounds. The proposed plans for the greenhouse are funded through a Future Ready CTE grant from the South Central Service Cooperative and would create a space for students to learn about agriculture. The solar panels are a proposal from Ideal Energies and would be an energy source for the school and a potential educational opportunity.
When Cleveland AgTech teacher Kelly Susa talks about her plans for a school greenhouse, she envisions a student-led garden where kids plant, grow, sell and cook their own vegetables. Susa is a first-year teacher at Cleveland, teaching a new agriculture-focused curriculum with classes on plant and animal science, food products and process and natural resources. Already, Susa has made her mark after applying for and receiving an $87,000 grant to make the greenhouse a reality.
“Students in my plant science classes would kind of run the greenhouse,” said Susa. All aspects of it, the business side of it and grow those plants up to productive vegetables. Then my foods class would take over and use those vegetables for cooking. So it was really a big cycle that the students are really driving themselves.”
This hands-on experience would aim to teach kids all about the growing process including managing climate control, irrigation, routine and minor maintenance. Students would be in charge deciding which plants to grow and would run fall and spring plant sales.
Once the school orders the greenhouse, it won’t take long to get to Cleveland. Witha delivery time of six weeks, the greenhouse should be at Cleveland by this summer. At that point, it would be a matter of hiring a construction crew to assemble the greenhouse kit. The kit itself would come at an estimated cost of $45,000 while construction would cost $30,000, all covered through the SCC grant.
Other costs in the project include $9,000 for utilities and $6,000 for a concrete base for the greenhouse. The total works out to be approximately $90,000, around $3,000 more than the grant provided. Susa said this was because there were some costs she underestimated in the grant application.
“The original quote did not account for snow load,” said Susa. “It was a much lighter snow load, which drove the price up quite a bit. Then this kit I thought would be all inclusive. Set it up, plug it in, ready to go, but it didn’t have any lights neither general lighting nor grow lights. And I assumed it was going to be a mount on the concrete greenhouse, but the base needs to be sunk into the concrete during construction.”
As a result, Susa cut plans to build a storage shed to keep costs down. Instead, an existing space on campus would be used for storing potting soil.
But, the $3,000 overage may not be an issue. Susa concluded that the best location for the greenhouse would be in the north parking lot. Options like the ballfield were too far away for students to travel to during the winter time and others were too small to hold the 24 by 48 foot structure.
The parking lot has space for the greenhouse and will be repaved over the summer. That means the school wouldn’t have to spend additional money to sink the greenhouse into a concrete base and would allow the grant to cover the full costs.
The one downside is the greenhouse would take up approximately four or five parking spaces. But Susa said that other schools with greenhouses in their parking lots told her it was worth it.
Cleveland could see additional grant money for the greenhouse in the future. Susa has committed to applying for a grant from the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council which could provide funds for foodstuff and greenhouse tables.
“They love giving money to new programs so I’m pretty confident we can get some funding for that,” said Susa.
After constructing a new wing for Cleveland Public Schools, the School Board is looking for opportunities to power it with solar energy.
Cleveland is no stranger to solar power, using a solar garden subscription to keep its main building running. But when the opportunity came to power the new building, Superintendent Brian Phillips wanted to bring solar panels directly to the school.
“I like the idea of being able to talk to kids — the educational component of where they get to monitor and check to see how things are working,” said Phillips. “I think it’s nice because we’re then helping kids learn about solar energy and the environment.”
While students might be able to monitor the energy from the school’s solar panels, they wouldn’t have many opportunities to see them up close. If the school purchases solar panels, they would be installed on the roof and Phillips said he didn’t want students going up there.
“We thought about doing some ground mounted ones and it turns out ther city is not allowing those so we came back tonight to see if we could put something on the roof,” said Phillips. “It seems like the board liked it. We’re going to save money right off the bat. It makes sense from an environmental perspective to do these types of things so we love the idea and I think the board is excited about it.”
As of Feb. 8, no action was taken by the school board to purchase solar panels. The meeting was for discussion only.