Greenhouse nurtures student, staff green thumbs


1503-SWhat do a College of Science dean, housing personnel, sustainability employees and students have in common at Marshall University?

They are all getting their hands dirty in a greenhouse.

Attached to the back of the Science Building in the 1970s, Marshall’s greenhouse served as a research hub for students and faculty for many years. The structure is adjacent to labs and classrooms, but began to fall into disrepair in the late 1990s. When he became dean of the College of Science about five years ago, Dr. Charles Somerville said, the greenhouse had definitely seen better days.

“Many glass panels were broken and the temperature control system was not working in every room. Not much had been growing in the greenhouse except for clutter that seems to multiply in a storage area,” Somerville said. “But there was always the potential to use the greenhouse for student learning experiences and to benefit the campus.”

The greenhouse came to life briefly in 2008 when it was used to grow plants for the Huntington Community Gardens project and once again in the fall semester of 2012 when student workers in Residence Services used it to 1578-X3grow 8,000 plants for landscaping around residence and dining halls. The following spring, Pete Divers, assistant director of Residence Services, saw a way to have gorgeous, colorful and vibrant flowers and plants to enhance their housing facilities. He and his crew, along with the help of student workers, then grew 22,000 plants and used them to beautify Marshall’s Huntington campus.

“We saved tens of thousands of dollars last year utilizing the greenhouse to grow our own landscaping plants,” Divers said. “We hope to continue that work and see it expand.”

The Residence Services crew now plants tens of thousands of tender seedlings for the spring, summer and fall seasons with a savings for the university of $40,000 a year, Divers said.

“The greenhouse helps us make campus beautiful for everyone to enjoy,” Divers said. “Because of the help of the Greening Marshall Committee, the Sustainability Department and Dr. Somerville, we have a great opportunity here.”

Margie Phillips, sustainability manager for Marshall, is thrilled the greenhouse is being used once again. Student workers and volunteers used it a few years ago when they wanted to grow a garden on campus to promote the local foods movement. They carved out an area in the greenhouse to get seedlings started to transplant into the raised beds located behind the Career Services Center.

“The greenhouse is a gem,” Phillips said. “There are so many sustainable uses for it.”

Somerville has secured priva7015-X3te funding to revitalize the greenhouse through a generous contribution of a benefactor.

“Renovating the greenhouse is great for Marshall,” Somerville said. “We can beautify campus, we can educate students, all while we are renovating a nice piece of equipment on Marshall’s campus.”

The funds are being used to update the greenhouse and nurture its potential as a place where students, faculty and staff can practice sustainable gardening and landscaping and faculty and students can once again use the greenhouse for research.

“Everybody wins,” Somerville said.

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Photos: (Above) Marshall employees (from left) Danny Bowman, John Maxwell and Pete Divers inspect some of the plants being grown in the Marshall greenhouse on the Huntington campus. (Center) Dr. Charles Somerville, dean of the College of Science, takes a look at some of the plants as well. (Below) Plants started in the greenhouse are used around the Huntington campus, as in the planter between Old Main and the Memorial Student Center.