College receives grant to construct greenhouse

Allegheny College received the E2 Energy to Educate grant in 2016. The grant awarded the college $37,500 to build a greenhouse for the Carr Garden—often called the “Carrden”—this upcoming summer. The greenhouse has been a goal of Allegheny’s for many years, though no one could confirm specifically when the idea began.

Ian Carbone, professor of environmental science and studies, did research prior to becoming a professor at Allegheny. His research focused on greenhouses that could produce electricity.

“As soon as I was offered the job [at Allegheny], I was planning to do that here,” Carbone said.

Carbone began working at Allegheny in fall 2014. Before he was offered the job, Carbone said the environmental science and studies departments had plans to build a greenhouse for the Carrden. The Carrden was created about three years ago, according to Kelly Boulton, the  sustainability coordinator.

“The idea for the greenhouse dates back to before the [Carrden] even existed. We always knew we wanted to have a greenhouse,”  Boulton said.

Boulton also said the garden needed to be successful before the greenhouse project could receive funds.

A large portion of the design for the greenhouse was planned by a junior seminar Carbone taught in spring 2015.

“Those students designed a new greenhouse that had a solar component and a bunch of other sustainability features like insulated walls and a biomass heating system,” Carbone said.

After this plan, Carbone worked with Rob Humphreys, a local architect, to design the greenhouse’s structure. Humphreys reviewed the junior seminar’s design and began working on a structural design.

After Carbone began teaching at Allegheny, he began speaking to Boulton and Eric Pallant, department chair and professor of environmental science and studies, about building a greenhouse. During  summer  2016, the three applied for a grant that would fund the project.

The current plan for the greenhouse is to generate electricity and create a heating system that uses vegetable oil waste from the campus’s dining halls to heat the inside.

“The sustainability features of the greenhouse are being funded by Constellation Energy as part of its ‘Energy to Educate’ program,” Carbone said.

The energy to educate program funds projects related to energy that are also educational and serve as a learning opportunity for students. They support those projects that use energy that would normally be wasted.

“When [Constellation E2 Energy to Educate] came up, we knew we wanted to do a lot of innovative heating and lighting, creating energy and capturing rainwater,” Boulton said.

Boulton said that the grant is for renewable energy technologies.

“[These are] renewable energy techonologies including luminescent solar concentrator panels for the roof that will generate electricity and allows us to take the remaining waste oil from the fryers at the dining halls on campus,” Boulton said.

There is a separate budget that will cover the construction of the greenhouse, according to Boulton.

“There is two components of [the funding],” Bennett Gould, ’17, said. “There’s the greenhouse building itself, which the school got a grant for a while back, and then there’s a second grant that the school has obtained for purchasing and installation of the heating system as well as the solar concentrator panels.”

Constellation is an energy company from which Allegheny purchases its electrical generation and renewable energy credits from, according to Boulton.

This greenhouse has involved Allegheny students in various ways as it has been the focus of several independent studies and summer research. The grant is also going to fund two students to design and build portions of the greenhouse over the summer, according to Carbone.

In addition, part of the project is the focus of Gould’s senior comprehensive project.

Gould said that his senior project is oriented toward designing the heating system for the greenhouse. He said that the boiler system will be fueled by the leftover oil from the college’s dining halls.

“It is a renewable energy source to heat the greenhouse,” Gould said.

Gould said he will work on the plans for the greenhouse up until graduation and, if he is living close by, he would like to spend some time with it after graduation.     

Owen Ludwig, ’18, plans to work over the summer to help make sure everything comes together in the construction of the greenhouse, according to Boulton.

Gould said he believes  that the greenhouse will be a valued addition to Allegheny’s campus.

“It’s a project we’ve been working on for a good while, and it is going to be a great asset for the Carr Hall garden and as a demonstration model for pioneering some new technologies here,” Gould said.

Students will learn how to use various technologies and learn about agriculture, according to Gould.

Boulton believes there will be an opportunity for the surrounding schools to learn from the greenhouse and use it as a resource. This will include the Meadville high school, middle school and elementary school.

If everything is successful, this greenhouse may provide a later argument to build a larger greenhouse, according to Boulton.

“I think that the important thing is that the greenhouse will be a really useful educational tool,” Carbone said. “Students can learn about season extension when growing food; it will also be useful for teaching some optics and how some solar technologies work, and it will be a tool for teaching students about energy efficient building design and also a useful teaching tool for waste energy and biofuels.”