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Greenhouse plans cause stir in Science department

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Posted Dec. 3, 2014 | Printed Dec. 1, 2014
Valerie Osier / News Editor
Roof top: Chemistry professor Leo Truttmann shows where the greenhouse will be built on the roof of the Math and Science building. If built in the white box, the greenhouse would be directly above Chemistry labs and would have to be custom made.

Valerie Osier | News Editor

Riverside City College faculty are hesitant to open the door for more problems that could be caused by the addition of a greenhouse on the roof of the Math and Science Building. Problems such as sickening odors, poor ventilation, excessive noise and temperature level issues have plagued the building since its construction.

The Life Science Department requires the use of a greenhouse to supplement lessons in many of their classes, according to Virginia White, a biology professor at RCC.

When the science department occupied the old Physical Science and Life Science buildings, there was a small greenhouse in between the buildings that served life science classes.

When the departments were relocated to the new Math and Science Building, the old greenhouse fell into disrepair and was considered too far away from the new building to be of any practical use to life science classes.

“It’s an important facility for the department and we have classes that are literally called ‘Botany’ that are all around plants and we don’t have a place to grow plants, which is so disappointing,” White said.

Since the planning stages for the construction of the Math and Science Building, a greenhouse was to be put on the roof of the building for the Life Sciences Department.

However, due to budget constraints during the building process, several things had to be taken away, including a greenhouse and a reverse osmosis water filtration system.

“There are many things that were planned and we’re reevaluating in terms of the resources that we have, the things that need to be fixed and things that need to be added,” Dr. Wolde-Ab Isaac, interim president of RCC, said. “We need to start using the small amount of money that we have to try and make the campus safe and functional. Maybe we can wait on having a ‘Grab and go’ to eat … and do we need to have the very beautiful and nice courtyard that might cost us a half a million? We need to think about all this. So those things have been put on hold for us to be able to have a more comprehensive plan of the campus itself.”

Faculty in the Chemistry Department are particularly concerned with the possible construction of a greenhouse on the roof because the area that is outlined for the greenhouse is directly above chemistry labs.

“If they think it (a greenhouse) is very useful or necessary, that’s totally legitimate, but it’s just more that we foresee more trouble with the building,” said Leo Truttmann, a chemistry professor at RCC. “We are really concerned with having more problems with the building, because of that it’s just one more complication, one more thing to do, but as a department, it’s nothing we have against a greenhouse, I mean, I’m not a biologist, I don’t know what the value is … if they think its important, then please, put a greenhouse somewhere.”

The main concern is of water seeping through the ceiling from the greenhouse, causing water damage and safety issues in the chemistry labs. They also worry about the weight of a greenhouse plus the weight of soil and water combined into one spot on the roof.

The faculty’s concern is also due to the previous problems the building has had and the process and time it took to get them fixed, according to Truttmann.

Faculty in the Life Science Department is also concerned for the safety and structural problems that could be caused by putting a greenhouse on the roof of a building.

According to White, if the greenhouse were to be built on the roof, it would have to be smaller and customized, which would cost the department more money.

However, life science classes have been in need of an operational greenhouse near the building since 2012.

“If it’s on the ground, it’s easy to get students in there and involved and working in the greenhouse, and that is one of the goals,” White said. “But, the policy of the department, our philosophy on it is: we want a greenhouse, and in whatever capacity that has to happen, that’s fine, it just needs to not sacrifice the safety of the building, or safety of the chemists, of course, but we really need a facility we can use with our students and get the coursework that they need done.”

However, worries about the greenhouse are unnecessary right now due to restrictions from the Division of the State Architect which is preventing further modifications to the Math and Science building.

According to Chris Carlson, chief of staff and facilities at RCCD, during construction of the building, the drywall contractor hired for the project was unable to keep up with the construction schedule and the district had to hire another drywall contractor to augment the original contractor’s work to keep the project on schedule.

This has caused a dispute case between the original contractor and the district that must be settled through the DSA before any modifications can be made to the Math and Science building.

“We’re going to push to be as expeditious as possible, but we also need to be as fiscally prudent and responsible as possible during that process,” Carlson said. “We could make it go away today if we were willing to write the check the contractor thinks he’s owed, we don’t believe he’s owed that, we think he’s owed a significantly less amount, because we took away a significant amount of work because he couldn’t perform it. So, that’s where that gets a little sticky … It could be two more steps, it could be 12 more steps.”

The dispute between the contractor and RCCD has put any plans of building a greenhouse on the roof of the Math and Science Building on hold in the meantime.

“We know that the greenhouse was originally in the building plans. We also have learned that somewhere along the lines, there was a request to take it out of the approved DSA plans,” Carlson said. “So what we will do, when we finally get the clearance to move the greenhouse forward, we’re going to study some different options. And we’ll take into consideration all the parameters so that the college is given different options with the different parameters, so they can make informed decisions about its location.”

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