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Regrowing Dickson's Greenhouse

Posted Nov. 10, 2014

Fallen into disrepair, a local school's educational greenhouse receives a new start with a little help from the Noble Research Institute
dickson greenhouse
Construction Specialist Tony Ballard replaces a wall panel on the Dickson High School greenhouse.

The sun beat down on Thurman Householder, Noble Research Institute construction services supervisor, and his crew one July morning as they began to clothe a bare greenhouse frame with translucent paneling.

Up they'd hoist a sheet to cover one section of one side of the Quonset structure. One man peeking out from the top, standing on a rolling scaffold; two men at the bottom, bracing their knees against the paneling to smooth its surface against the frame.

"We need to go up and over," the man up top called to those down below. The trio maneuvered up, down and around the paneling to line it up straight with the opposite side's panel. In tune with one another and their task, they called out measurements and adjusted their positions to prevent buckling before securing the panels.

Soon all the panels will be in place, and Dickson Public School's agriculture department will have a refurbished greenhouse. "It's sure going to be a nice facility," Householder said. "It just needed a facelift."

Originally built in the 1980s, the Dickson greenhouse was an extension of the agriculture classroom used to teach students how to grow and sell flowers. But the building's condition deteriorated over time.

By the time Zack Gadberry came to teach agriculture at Dickson in July 2013, the greenhouse had not been used to its full capacity for at least three years. His goal was to make the space fully functional again for his students.

The greenhouse foundation and framing were in sound condition, but its shell, cracked and yellowed with age, needed replaced. The Dickson FFA Chapter bought new panels, but Gadberry soon realized the labor to put the panels up would cost more than the panels themselves.

At a Noble Research Institute-sponsored agriscience workshop in 2013, Gadberry met Frank Hardin, Ph.D., the Noble Research Institute's educational outreach manager who leads Noble Academy. Gadberry, who'd never managed a greenhouse previously, explained the project and wanted to see if the Noble Research Institute could offer assistance once he started teaching. "I just wanted to use the Noble Research Institute as a resource after we rebuilt the greenhouse," Gadberry said. "But Hardin said, 'I think we may be able to do better than that.'"

That's when Householder and his crew got involved.

Years of rain pounding against the hillside had displaced soil up against the side of the greenhouse. Before the old paneling could be peeled off the frame, the construction crew needed to push the dirt away.

All Gadberry was hoping for was help replacing the shell, he said, but the Noble Research Institute team went much further. Members of the facilities and maintenance department built retaining walls around the greenhouse to improve water drainage and prevent future dirt buildup, ensured plumbing was in working order, and replaced the lighting. "We want this place in full operation when we leave," Householder said. "It'll be more user-friendly and more pleasing to the eye."

Most importantly, students stepping through its threshold this fall are able to use the fully functional facility to learn about plant science and gain hands-on horticulture experience, something that's been a challenge the past few years.

Last year, Gadberry's horticulture class germinated some seeds in the greenhouse, but the lesson's setting was less than ideal since the building couldn't keep pests out or hold desired temperatures. This year, the prospect of a renovated greenhouse enticed some of those students to take the class again. This year, they're able to work in the greenhouse more frequently and more effectively.

Gadberry doesn't plan to focus on flowers as in the past; rather, the focus will shift to vegetable plant production. Students will grow vegetable plants from seed and sell them when they're big enough to transplant. For students who already have produce-related, supervised, agricultural experience projects, the greenhouse provides space for them to start their own plants.

Animal science students may also utilize the space for growing grasses to compare and determine which make better forages for grazing animals. Looking far down the road, animal science students could get more involved if they were to implement a hydroponics system, where horticulture students and animal science students would work together to grow lettuce and raise tilapia.

Once it's up and running, Gadberry plans to continue using the Noble Research Institute as a resource to provide students with the best learning experiences possible. But for now, he said, he's blessed to have the Noble Research Institute as a community partner.

"If it wasn't for the Noble Research Institute, I don't know if we'd get this done," Gadberry said. "I'm extremely grateful. Because of Noble, I'm going to be able to provide a better education for my students."