Ultramodern Greenhouse Goes Green on Campus

Students, faculty, alumni, staff, sponsors, donors & the DCTC Horticulture Club team up to make it happen.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the opening of a new, high-tech greenhouse on the campus of Dakota County Technical College. The event helped spotlight the college’s participation in the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.

On another level, the greenhouse’s grand opening represented the culmination of a tremendous fund-raising effort involving students, faculty, and alumni from the Landscape Horticulture program, corporate and individual donors and sponsors, the DCTC Foundation, the DCTC Horticulture Club, and the Office of the President.

The idea for a new greenhouse originated with Edward Plaster, a landscape horticulture instructor who began teaching at DCTC in 1977.

“The old hoop house was built in 1979,” said Plaster, who will be retiring this year after 30 years of service. “The structure was outdated and lacked the technology to make it a useful teaching tool. Add in lousy climate control, high energy costs, and expensive ongoing maintenance, and we all began to see that a new greenhouse would be a great asset to our program.”

The idea didn’t take off until fall semester 2005 when students enrolled in the program saw the pressing need for a new, technologically sound structure. With an enthusiasm and dedication that impressed their instructors, they took on the project as their very own.

“Our students deserve most of the credit,” said Matt Brooks, another landscape horticulture instructor. “We knew that we needed to replace the hoop house, but weren’t really going anywhere with the idea. The students proposed a fund-raising campaign and took off running with the project. They are the driving force behind the new greenhouse.”

Dr. Ron Thomas, DCTC president, stepped in and pledged a fund of starter money. “This was an exceptionally worthy project from the outset,” Thomas said. “Our students need access to top-of-the-line technology to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to compete in a fast-paced global economy.”

Thomas enlisted the DCTC Foundation to assist the students in raising the remainder of the required capital. Janet Lekson, a Foundation assistant director, took the lead role on the project.

“The greenhouse project was very special to me,” Lekson said. “My late husband, Jim Bragg, graduated from DCTC’s Landscape Horticulture program in the early eighties. He loved the program and couldn’t say enough about the instructors.”

With the help of fellow assistant director, Trudi Greaves, Lekson began searching for donors and sponsors using a variety of approaches. One major avenue she followed was establishing a committee to organize a major fund-raising event called the Green Gala.

DeAnne Rentfrow, a former DCTC student who works on-air at KS95 radio, chaired the event, which was held on April 8, 2006, at the Rosemount Community Center. The turnout exceeded expectations and the Green Gala proved to be spectacular success.

“It was easy to find current and former students who wanted to participate on some level,” said Rentfrow, who’s busy completing her degree in environmental horticulture. “That tells you about the quality of the program’s teachers in Ed Plaster, Jeff Kleinboehl, and Matt Brooks.”

Rentfrow went on to say that she was proud of everyone who served on the Green Gala committee, including Karen Filloon, Carol Hlavay, Nancy Thorman Dahl, Terri Zachman, and Trudi Greaves. She also applauded the vision of Dr. Ron Thomas and Sharon LaComb, DCTC vice president of institutional advancement.

“I’m thrilled that the greenhouse was built so quickly after the gala,” said Rentfrow. “We had the right combination of people at the right time to the brighten the future of the green industry and protect our environment.”

Karen Filloon, who came to the Landscape Horticulture program after a successful career as a meteorologist for KSTP-TV and WCCO Radio, also felt a strong connection to the greenhouse project. As a landscape design specialist, Filloon considered the fund-raising effort an ideal way to give back to the program while contributing to the betterment of her profession.

Filloon graduated from the program in 2003 and was honored as the DCTC Outstanding Alumna of the Year in 2006. “I’ve had some success in this field,” she said, “and I couldn’t have done it without the training and support I received from faculty and students, both former and current.”

She believes that the new greenhouse will stand as the legacy of everyone involved. “What makes this project so special is that the greenhouse will provide a state-of-the-art teaching/learning space that will inspire students for decades to come,” she said. “There is something magical about knowing that my small part in the project will help someone I will never know and who doesn’t know me.”

The Green Gala was a key piece of a two-year fund-raising drive that included substantial donations from corporations, private individuals, and alumni of the landscape horticulture program. The Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association, the region’s largest green industry trade association, made grants toward the purchase of a climate-control computer system and an up-to-date irrigation system.

The DCTC Horticulture Club, a student organization that raises money for the program through annual plant sales, anchored the fund-raising drive by contributing the largest single donation to the greenhouse project.

Matt Wolfe, the president of the Horticulture Club and a member of the Student Senate, said that all club members were convinced that a modern greenhouse was an essential training environment for students who needed hands-on experience with the very latest technologies. He also noted that the new greenhouse would be outstandingly “green” and drastically reduce energy expenditures.

“I worked in the industry as a professional orchid grower, but I still needed a degree to advance my career,” said Wolfe, who will earn his A.A.S. degree in landscape horticulture in the spring of 2008. “We are passionate about DCTC’s Landscape Horticulture program and were more than happy to commit the club’s resources to a project that will greatly save energy costs and benefit the program’s graduates for years to come.”

Lekson developed other fund-raising options to round out the drive, including greenhouse bench and engraved paver sales, which continue today along with Friend of the Greenhouse sponsorships.

The new greenhouse is now operational. Fund-raisers, students, alumni, and instructors could not be more pleased. A defining hallmark of the project was the way everyone involved came together with a heartfelt sense of purpose.

“This was truly a group effort,” said Matt Brooks, who spoke for all the program’s instructors. “This project is a testament to the dedicated students we are so fortunate to have in our program and to the leadership of President Thomas and his talented staff in the Foundation. With the new greenhouse as the showpiece of our program, we are fully prepared to produce graduates that will be experts in their profession and a boon to the entire green industry.”