In Our September, 2017 Issue:

Green light for campus greenhouse renovation

Formerly the site of a biological pest research facility, the greenhouse will be renovated and expanded to include classrooms and space for plant cultivation. Governor Mark Dayton signed off on the legislative appropriation for the GROW-IT Center on May 30, 2017.

A vacant green­house next to the Library and Learn­ing Cen­ter on the St. Paul cam­pus will gain new life thanks to a $400,000 appro­pri­a­tion from the Min­nesota State Leg­is­la­ture. By 2019, the build­ing will become the GROW-​IT Cen­ter, an inclu­sive research cen­ter for stu­dents, fac­ulty and the community.

GROW-​IT is an acronym for Gate­way for Research, Out­reach, Work­force Devel­op­ment, Inno­va­tion and Teaching.

The green­house will be ren­o­vated exten­sively. Three research bays will be con­verted into one large grow­ing space. An addi­tional restroom will be built and an office will be moved. A front room will host work­shops and classes.

Pro­fes­sor Mark Asplen of the Nat­ural Sci­ences Depart­ment has over­seen the sci­en­tific side of the project. The plan­ning team believes that the GROW-​IT Cen­ter will be a boon to stu­dents study­ing a vari­ety of sub­jects, from chem­istry to nurs­ing to psy­chol­ogy. “You’re going to have sci­en­tists work­ing right next to psy­chol­o­gists and peo­ple in other pro­grams,” said Asplen. “Being close together can build collaboration.”

The build­ing has a long his­tory as a space for sci­en­tific research. Com­mis­sioned and built by the Min­nesota Bio­log­i­cal Pest Con­trol Research Pro­gram in 1998, it was used to study the impact of inva­sive insects.

In 2008, the reces­sion forced the Min­nesota Leg­is­la­ture to imple­ment bud­get cuts and shut­ter the site. Later that year, the Min­nesota Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture trans­ferred the prop­erty to Metro State.

Asplen also envi­sions the site as a space for col­lab­o­ra­tion between the uni­ver­sity and East Side com­mu­nity where the needs of res­i­dents can inform the university’s research. “We want to have the com­mu­nity inspire the research in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the fac­ulty, and work together so that they already know why the research is impor­tant,” Asplen said.

Jodi Bant­ley, Com­mu­nity Engage­ment Coor­di­na­tor for the Insti­tute for Com­mu­nity Engage­ment and Schol­ar­ship (ICES), said the GROW-​IT Cen­ter will be an “urban agri­cul­tural gate­way” for the East Side. The neigh­bor­hood is clas­si­fied as a food desert, defined by the Amer­i­can Nutri­tion Asso­ci­a­tion as “a part of the coun­try vapid of fresh fruit, veg­eta­bles and other health­ful whole foods.”

Bant­ley explained that the project is a nat­ural next step for a neigh­bor­hood with a his­tory of com­mu­nity agriculture.“There’s a very strong move­ment of orga­ni­za­tions on the East Side that includes urban farm­ers that started early healthy food move­ments, sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture and farm to table prac­tices,” she said.

The university’s deci­sion to work with the non­profit com­mu­nity orga­ni­za­tion Urban Roots will pro­vide those work­ing in the GROW-​IT Cen­ter with a “rich edu­ca­tional oppor­tu­nity,” accord­ing to Met­ro­pol­i­tan State Pres­i­dent Vir­ginia Arthur. Urban Roots is located at 463 Maria, just steps from the green­house. “If you’re doing some­thing in the green­house, you’re going to be inter­act­ing with mem­bers of the com­mu­nity,” said Arthur.

There will be an empha­sis on teach­ing res­i­dents about urban agri­cul­ture and meth­ods of grow­ing their own fruits and vegetables.

Pres­i­dent Arthur believes that hav­ing stu­dents work together can pre­pare them for life beyond col­lege. “In real life, we have to inter­act with peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds,” she said. “In real life, your prob­lems are never segmented.”

The trans­for­ma­tion of the green­house into the GROW-​IT Cen­ter has been many years in the mak­ing. In 2014, talks began at Metro State among mem­bers of the fac­ulty and admin­is­tra­tion about what a ren­o­va­tion of the green­house could look like.

Now, in 2017, things are look­ing very good for the pro­posed GROW-​IT Cen­ter. Archi­tec­tural plans for the project have been drafted, and nearly 75 per­cent of the fund­ing has been secured.

In total, around $700,000 has been raised between the leg­isla­tive appro­pri­a­tion and pri­vate dona­tions. CHS, spon­sor of the St. Paul Saints base­ball sta­dium, donated $235,000. Bant­ley esti­mates that the final cost will be $1.1 to $1.2 million.