Dayton’s Bluff ‘greenhouse’ to be renovated this year


courtesy of 292 Design Group • The original, 3,000-square-foot facility will be renovated and a some 750 square feet of space will be added to the front of the building to create a demonstration area.

courtesy of 292 Design Group • The inside of the facility will be renovated to include a research room at the back, while the rest of it will be used for growing plants.

courtesy of 292 Design Group • Metropolitan State University plans to renovate and construct a new addition to the “greenhouse” off Maria Avenue in Dayton’s Bluff this year, with the goal to have the facility up and running by early 2019. The building will be used in partnership with community organizations like Urban Roots and Friends of Swede Hollow to grow starter plants.

A project that was only about 50-percent-funded less than a year ago is now planned to be completed by the end of the year. 

The “greenhouse,” as most neighbors in the Dayton’s Bluff community refer to the building at 445 Maria Ave., is set to be renovated and expanded.

The building is owned and managed by Metropolitan State University and will be used to grow starter plants in partnership with local organizations like Urban Roots and Friends of Swede Hollow. The university will also conduct community-based research in the space.

The facility will be called the GROW-IT Center, which stands for gateway for research, outreach, workforce development, innovation and teaching. 

 

Not really a greenhouse

Despite it’s community nickname, Jodi Bantley, the community engagement coordinator for the university, said the space was never actually used as a greenhouse, but rather as a research facility. 

Built in 1998, the building was used by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to study pest control. 

In 2008, funding from the state to support the building and its research dried up and it was abandoned. A year later, the facility was offered to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, and it was purchased on behalf of Metropolitan State.

It wasn’t until 2014 that the university, after creating plans to dramatically increase its science department and construct a science center, decided to begin having discussions with the community on how to use the space, Bantley said.

Because of the early involvement with Urban Roots and Friends of Swede Hollow, the goal had always been to use it to connect with the community. 

“I’m thrilled we finally got here,” said Karin DuPaul, a Dayton’s Bluff neighbor and member of the Friends of Swede Hollow, who has been involved with reworking the building since the beginning.

 

Community-based research

During a March 13 community engagement meeting, university staff and community members discussed how to use the space and the construction timeline. If all goes as planned, the facility should be up and running by early 2019. 

The majority of the facility will be used for growing starter plants to be used and sold by Urban Roots and Friends of Swede Hollow. The facility will also be used for educational purposes, with young people from Urban Roots and perhaps involving students from local schools. 

The university will also be using a small space to conduct research.

Mark Asplen, an associate professor, etymologist and department chair for the university’s natural sciences department, said research conducted at the facility will be rooted in community questions. 

He said instead of the typical extension service where universities conduct research and then publish it for the public, neighbors will be encouraged to work with and learn from researchers directly. 

“We want the community to bring questions to us,” Asplen said. 

Another professor, August Hoffman, who studies psychology, is hoping the facility and community partnerships will help in his research and teaching about the connection between mental health and gardening. 

Overall, residents were happy to see the building will be fixed up and connected to the community.

Some residents were curious to know if plants tied to culturally Hmong, Somali or Karen dishes could be grown in the building to provide neighbors of many cultures access to traditional ingredients.

Others were curious about how they could get involved, especially with the community research component. Bantley said those interested in getting involved should contact her office.

Jessica Mugaas, who recently moved to Dayton’s Bluff, said she was excited to see a project like this taking shape. In the few months that she has lived in the neighborhood, she has noticed that while there is the Mississippi Market grocery store, much of the food there may be too expensive for many of the residents who live in the area.  

She said she sees the idea of growing and selling starter plants as being a way to give people better access to healthier and more affordable food.

 

Construction

With more than 90 percent of the estimated $1.2 million construction costs already raised, project leaders are currently working to finalize construction plans and to put the project out for bids this spring. The hope is to start actual construction at the end of the summer or early this fall.

The existing 3,000-square-foot building will be renovated to include an open growing area and a research room at the back of the building.

Pam Anderson, principle architect at 292 Design Group, who has been working on the project for about two years, said the building is “in tough shape right now.” 

She said structurally it’s fine, but everything else, like the panels and equipment inside, needs to be replaced due to years of disuse.  

At the front of the building, a roughly 750-square-foot addition will be built to create a demonstration area, as well as a bathroom. The addition will bring the facility all the way to the edge of the Maria Avenue sidewalk and put the front door facing the avenue. Right now the main door is on the side of the facility facing First Lutheran Church. 

The front will also be all glass, so neighbors walking by can see into the building and growing space to see what is going on inside.

“We want it to be really inviting,” Anderson said. 

Project leaders said they are also hoping to have enough funding to install solar panels on the roof.

Bantley said what’s most exciting to her and the university is the project’s “potential to bridge theory and practice.”

The university has a history of connecting with the neighborhood. It uses a similar community engagement model with its library. The library, located directly south of the future GROW-It center, works with the St. Paul Public Library system and hosts the Dayton’s Bluff Public Library.

Bantley said the university is open to other ideas from the community on how to use the space and encourages those who weren’t able to attend the March 13 meeting to reach out to her at GROW-IT@metrostate.edu or by calling 651-793-1294.


 

– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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