School greenhouse sprouting slowly

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FALMOUTH — Plans for a school-run educational greenhouse on Woodville Road are slowly taking root – slower than originally planned.

The School Department had to go through the town’s permitting process before plans were made to install the hoop house, a tunnel-like structure made of polyethylene used to heat plants inside the structure faster than heat can escape.

Dan O’Shea, the department’s director of finance and operations, said the department will have to put construction on hold until spring because of the timing.

The Planning Board unanimously voted Dec. 1 to approve the school department’s application to construct the hoop house. The agenda item was an administrative action, and was approved without discussion.

The greenhouse is being paid for with a $40,000 grant from the Falmouth Education Foundation.

In addition, the School Department hired Genna Cherichello in November to manage the greenhouse and gardens. Cherichello, who will be a part-time employee, said she is excited to begin work.

“The whole team is really excited about the amount of food production that will be able to happen, not only the cafeterias but also being donated to the local food pantries,” Cherichello said.

Cherichello said the greenhouse and gardens are important classrooms as well. She said whether a student is in art, science or economics class, “there is something about the garden and greenhouse that is relevant to that topic.”

Ethan Croce, the town’s senior planner, on Nov. 23 said the greenhouse needed site plan approval because it is not a residential building and is also more than 500 square feet.

In addition to the site plan approval process, O’Shea said school officials applied for a building permit, which was issued Dec. 2, according to Code Enforcement Officer Justin Brown.

The School Department initially had to put a hold on their order for the hoop house during the application process. O’Shea said the district’s preference now is to continue holding the order until spring, rather than ordering it and storing it somewhere.

O’Shea had said in November that the department wanted to build the hoop house in December. He also said since it would likely take two or three weeks to arrive after ordering, the ground would be too hard to begin construction.

“We just think it would be too tough,” O’Shea said.

The hoop house is not a typical building, O’Shea said on Nov. 19, as it is just “plastic over aluminum tubes.” The Department had originally hoped to have the hoop house up by October. Since it is a kit, construction would only take a day.

On Nov. 23, Brown said the permitting process is the same as any other building, but expected it to be a “straightforward process.” He said he had to wait until the project received Planning Board approval before signing off on the permit.

In November, O’Shea said while the project “has taken us a while to get to this point,” it was worth the time to ensure it is done right. He said in addition to food production for the school cafeterias and the Falmouth Food Pantry, the gardens will offer educational opportunities for all students in a variety of ways, ranging from science to art classes.

The Resilience Hub, a Portland-based nonprofit and environmental consultant, has been working with the district to find the best location for the hoop house. Resilience has also been gathering input from students, faculty and community members “on what people expected out of a greenhouse,” and then prioritized those wants, O’Shea said last month.

All that information has been put into a master plan for the greenhouse area, which is next to the tennis courts near the department’s administrative offices. O’Shea said they have gone through a draft master plan multiple times, and the final changes have been sent to the Farm to School committee.

The plan is to start with the hoop house and garden spaces around it. O’Shea said at some point, expanding and renovating the existing middle school gardens will be done as well. The School Department originally wanted to look at the potential for adding gardens closer to the high school. He said while there is still interest in that project, the plan going forward will be to see how the hoop house area gets used first. He added that the high school garden has less space for a potential addition.

He said once Resilience comes back with the final plan, an open house and gallery will be held to display the master plan and its elements. He said the open house will be in early January, likely before the School Board’s first workshop.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

A greenhouse project to benefit Falmouth schools and local food pantries had to go through the town’s permitting process before being approved.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or