Rays of growth in YSU greenhouse

The greenhouse attached to Ward Beecher Hall will soon be fixed to become an independently powered building. Photo by Sydney Stalnecker / The Jambar

By Sydney Stalnecker

Broken tiles, cracked glass and extreme temperatures will no longer characterize Youngstown State University’s greenhouse.

The greenhouse, attached to the end of Ward Beecher Hall, is undergoing a three-phase construction project which, according to university architect Summer Barker, began in October 2021.

Wim Steelant, dean of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics department, said the project’s goals are to make repairs, fix the climate control and make it independent from oil and gas. It will be powered with the solar panels on the roof of Moser Hall.

“From the donor’s perspective, he wanted us to fix it up. It’s been here a long, long time,” Steelant said. “It was deteriorating quick — the tiles were falling off the walls and glass was getting broken.”

To make the greenhouse completely independent, batteries will be used to store energy from the solar panels. This allows for the greenhouse to be used at all times without any connection to Ward Beecher’s power sources.

The STEM college was able to make these renovations due to a donation it received.

“A donor owned a horse farm, and so there’s a house and the land, and they decided to give it to the YSU Foundation that then had to sell it off,” Steelant said. “The profits of that sale came to the STEM college to fund the cleanup — or remodel, if you wish — of the greenhouse which is a little bit above $420,000.”

Ian Renne, associate professor of ecology, has attempted to fund the renovation of the greenhouse in the past by writing three National Science Foundation grants, but ultimately did not receive them.

“I have written three NSF grants — 2007, 2008 and 2009 — collectively totalling around nearly $1 million,” Renne said. “My third attempt was very close to being funded, but it ultimately did not get funded.”

Both Steelant and Renne are happy to see the greenhouse being renovated and are excited to use it for future education and research at YSU.

“This roughly $420,000 that has been put into this current renovation is a wonderful first step,” Renne said. “It’s going to increase functionality, particularly in the research-ready chamber.”

A major part of the construction was focused on bay three of the greenhouse, which will be used as a research-ready chamber once the project is finished. 

“With that budget we were given, we were able to focus renovation to greenhouse bay number three, which was formerly a rainforest greenhouse,” Barker said.

Renne said the third bay has been in a state of disrepair since before he began his career at the university in 2006.

The greenhouse consists of three bays. The first two needed few major renovations, but bay three contained a large crater where a banana tree had grown in the 1990s. Renne said the crater is known as “death valley” among those who frequent the greenhouse.

“They installed a tropical rainforest, and it seemed to function just for a short amount of time,” Renne said. “They ran into a lot of maintenance issues, and it has been a deadzone — a big eyesore — since the greenhouse faces Lincoln [Avenue], one of the most traveled areas on Youngstown State’s campus.”

Steelant expects the project to be complete within the next month. When it is finished, there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the renovation.