Greenhouse classroom at Vail Mountain School is underway
VAIL — Vail Mountain School students will get their hands dirty as they learn a few real-life lessons in their new greenhouse classroom.
The greenhouse will have a ground-to-air heat transfer system to help heat and cool the space. The school recently received approval from the town to build a 1,000-square-foot greenhouse classroom attached to the west side of the building. They started construction this week.
The project, designed by Pierce Architects, will be built during the summer by Evans Chaffee Construction.
Gabe Scherzer is VMS’ AP environmental science teacher and runs the greenhouse pilot program.
“As a science teacher, I see tremendous opportunities to use the space not only for a garden-to-table curriculum, but also for advanced hands-on genetics labs, projects looking at energy use and to learn more about globally responsible farming,” Scherzer said.
A parent organization called Parent Partners has been working with the school to design and raise money for the project.
“I’m blown away by the overwhelming generosity of the community and how people have come together to make the project happen. People have contributed money, time, ideas and services so that we can do this in an ideal way,” said Christina Lautenberg, co-chair of Parent Partners.
The school raised $250,000 to fund the project. The price tag is in part due to requirements to meet building codes and match the architecture of the school, but also reflective of unique features and the need for the space to serve as a classroom.
One unique feature of the greenhouse is a new system through which waste products produced by fish living in the greenhouse are used as nutrients for plants grown hydroponically. As part of a pilot program, VMS is partnering with aquaponics company Food for Thought to develop upper level science lesson plans to go along with their products.
“We want to create a living learning laboratory. The goal is to be able to grow plants year round, which means that we need the structure to accommodate both kids and plants and to function when it’s negative 20 or 80 degrees outside,” Lautenberg said.
The greenhouse will integrate a geothermal system that circulates air through a network of pipes in the ground to assist with heating and cooling.
“It leverages geothermal heating and cooling and is essentially a big heat sink” said VMS parent Chris Evans, of Evans Chaffee Construction.
The heating and cooling system was inspired by the senior project of Sage Ebel, a 2013 VMS graduate. She created a design for a greenhouse using a similar system. Ebel is currently enrolled at the University of Washington School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vail daily.com.