Campus / News / April 17, 2013

Tunneling to sustainability

Last year’s growing dome proposal could be replaced by a high tunnel — a similar, less expensive structure — thereby paving the way for the $40,000 project to be completed by the end of the year.

An ad-hoc committee of senators, formed at the April 4 Senate meeting and chaired by Treasurer junior Shelly Bhanot, has agreed to support the revised proposal. Purchasing decisions will be left up to the Office of Sustainability under the direction of Sustainability Coordinator Shawn Tubb.

“This is a much, much better proposal and project than the growing dome,” Bhanot said. “It was a big project that was very showy…but maybe not the most sustainable over time.”

Student Senate considers a high tunnel growing infrastructure in place of the grow dome proposal put forth last year. (TKS Archives)

Student Senate considers a high tunnel growing infrastructure in place of the grow dome proposal put forth last year. (TKS Archives)

Senate is currently waiting to hear about whether the high tunnel will be within city building ordinances. If approval is given within the next week, the tunnel could be installed in early May, with a grand opening held by the end of the school year.

The original project set aside $30,000 from the Senate Restricted Fund and $10,000 from the Student Sustainability Fund for the growing dome, a year-round greenhouse. Rather than revising the allocation, Bhanot said that the money will simply be able to stretch further, with the $40,000 spent over three years on maintenance, supplies and wages for a student worker.

The growing dome, on the other hand, would have used up the entire allocation for setup and installation, with nothing left over for upkeep.

“We are so optimistic about this project,” Bhanot said of Student Senate. “The $40,000 is going much further.”

Senior Christina Colman was less confident.

“It sounds like a pipe dream. I’m not sure it would actually be useful or utilized properly,” she said.

Such concerns are largely why the original growing dome proposal was reformulated. The level of technical expertise needed to construct the dome and maintain it was beyond the skills of the students behind the project, as was the idea of selling the produce to help cover costs.

“I don’t think it was in the reach of something that a student could’ve done,” junior Nora McGinn told The Knox Student earlier this month.

In addition to being less expensive, a high tunnel would also be more mobile than a growing dome, which requires pipelines and electrical wiring that render it stationary. While the current plan is to put the tunnel behind the Human Rights Center at 422 S. Academy St., it could be moved in the future if needed.

And, like the growing dome, the high tunnel would provide students with an opportunity to learn about sustainable agriculture as the college attempts to incorporate sustainability across the curriculum.

“The cool thing about this project is that it’s supposed to be an educational garden…so not only will the upkeep be done by the student worker and other people in the environmental studies department, but by classrooms in other departments,” Bhanot said.

Unlike the growing dome, however, the high tunnel would not allow for year-round growing, instead extending the growing season to last from February until November.

The original growing dome proposal was made in the winter of 2012 to the Special Meeting on the Use of the Restricted Fund, which requested student proposals on what to do with the $130,000 fund, comprised of leftover student activity fee money from previous years. After discovering that the growing dome would cost more than originally thought, the Knox Food Coalition was given a year to reformulate their proposal.

Senior Elizabeth Woodyard, while supportive of local food, believes the high tunnel is not the best use of student money.

“I think we should work more with the community,” she said. “Put the money into buying organic food from local farmers.”

Tags:  christina colman elizabeth woodyard food grow dome growing dome high tunnel nora mcginn senate restricted fund shawn tubb Shelly Bhanot student sustainability fund sustainability

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