Jacobs High School refurbishes old greenhouse

ALGONQUIN – For many years, the 864-square-foot greenhouse on top of H.D. Jacobs High School was dormant and used for storage of anything but plants.

Science department equipment, car washing materials and even cats and frogs for dissection were being stored in the greenhouse, among other things.

"Anyone who didn't know what to do with something would dump it up here," said Terry Stroh, head of the science division at Jacobs, at an open house Monday.

The last time the space was run as a greenhouse was in 1979.

With the help of a roughly $5,000 grant from the District 300 Foundation for Educational Excellence in March, the Jacobs Green Eagles Environmental Club and teachers bought a hydroponic system, an aeroponic system, set up nine tables and planted some seedlings to help get the greenhouse going.

The school even received a rain barrel from Farm and Fleet, which was used to collect 40 gallons of rain water last week, and soil and flowers from Home Depot.

Beginning in March, a handful of students and teachers began coming in to help during their free time. Some even came in during their spring break, Fridays after school and on Saturdays to clean up the and refurbish the greenhouse.

Some plants are being grown in clay pellets and water, with no use of soil. Every few hours, a machine turns on and pumps water into pots so the plants can absorb the nutrients.

Some seedlings are growing in small pots of soil.

The school has networked with the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Food Pantry and agreed to start growing seedlings for the food pantry. The small plants will eventually be transplanted to the food pantry, where they could continue to grow and go to families in need. Transplanting the plants will be a community service opportunity for students, Stroh said.

"It is a great opportunity for our students, for our faculty and for our community now that we have this up and running," Stroh said.

More than 400 seedlings including tomatoes, corn, peppers, eggplants and herbs, among other plants, are growing in the greenhouse. Some of the plants will be used in foods classes or environmental sciences classes. Teachers can discuss yield, where a seed starts from being less than a gram to a large plant that produces pounds of fruits and vegetables.

"It gives [students] an opportunity to see where we get our food from," Stroh said.

Senior Gabbie Navarro helped with the planting and painted a mural of an eagle inside the greenhouse.

"I'm really vested in the environment," Navarro said. "I feel really proud because I worked a lot on this."

Emily Donaldson, a senior at Jacobs and a member of the Green Eagles club, watered plants during the event and helped refurbish the greenhouse.

"This came on a whim, that we heard we could refurbish a greenhouse," Donaldson said. "This is something that is purposeful."

"We can use the greenhouse as a learning platform... for the school," Donaldson added. "We can say, 'We're unique.' Most high schools don't have a greenhouse."

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