Two natural disasters left Fayetteville Technical Community College’s Wesley A. Meredith Horticulture Educational Center without a greenhouse for more than a year. That changed Dec. 5.
A ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated the new State-of-the-Art Greenhouse at the center’s location on Eastern Boulevard in Fayetteville. Some of the greenhouse’s features include a double-door entrance, evaporative cooling system and a sidewall rollup with motorized curtains. Funds from the Hurricane Florence Disaster Recovery Fund, established by the North Carolina General Assembly, paid for the building measuring 30 by 72 feet. The previous greenhouse was 30 by 50 feet.
FTCC President Dr. J. Larry Keen asked dozens of Horticulture Technology program students to stand with him at the podium moments before the ceremonious ribbon cutting.
“Why we do the work we do is represented up here,” Keen said as he looked at the students. “They are the ones who not only hold tomorrow in their hands but today in their hands as well. These are our students. These are the ones we work for every single day.”
Other guests who attended the ceremony were Cumberland County Commissioners, City of Fayetteville Councilmembers, and representatives from the Office of Sen. Thom Tillis, the Cape Fear Botanical Garden and the United Way of Cumberland County.
The previous greenhouse endured heavy flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, but was repaired. Two years later, the Quonset Greenhouse succumbed to Hurricane Florence’s flood waters; it was built nearly a decade before the storm pummeled eastern North Carolina. Both hurricanes left widespread devastation, causing more than $21 billion in damage to homes, businesses, farms, governments while claiming the lives of dozens of North Carolinians, according to an article from the News & Observer. North Carolina Rep. John Szoka reminded attendees at the ceremony of the damage caused by both hurricanes. He added efforts by the legislature – including Rep. Elmer Floyd who was in attendance – to build a reserve for emergencies helped make the new greenhouse possible.
The greenhouse project budgeted for $314,346.90.
“I’ve had farmers tell me without the aid, they would have been bankrupt or have to sell their family farms,” Szoka said. “What we do in Raleigh is important. We do it because we love our community and support those who love our community. Horticulture is about touching people’s hearts and community with nature. It’s my honor and Rep. Floyd’s and the rest of the Legislative Delegation to do what we can to support a horticulture center here.”
Renovations on the new greenhouse began in August and took roughly four to six weeks to complete. Additional work included installing floor drains and pipes, a concrete pad and a polycarbonate covering with a 15-year longevity. The new building was provided by The Greenhouse Company of South Carolina. Partners who helped with the project included Gradient, a North Carolina-based engineering firm and Jeff Umphlet, FTCC’s Construction and Project Management Coordinator. FTCC’s Dean of Engineering & Applied Technology Pamela Gibson expressed excitement about the new greenhouse. The Horticulture Technology program is under Gibson’s department.
“It has been a long road since we lost the last one,” she said. “Matthew flooded [the previous greenhouse] with four to six feet of water. Florence was up to 10 feet. The hurricanes were devastating, but the silver lining is because of the hurricane recovery funding, we have a state-of-the-art greenhouse.”
More than just a building
The greenhouse built in 2008 served as the main location where horticulture technology students took the course “Greenhouse Operations,” a requirement to obtain an associate’s degree from the program. Students learned about plant growing, temperature control, irrigation and more. After it was destroyed, students learned course basics in the smaller conservatory and at times, tables were double-stacked and plants lined hallways to provide a space for learning.
“And everything had to be watered by hand for a year,” said Dr. Robin Pusztay. She has served as department chair for the horticulture technology program since 2017. “It was difficult for all of us, and we had to work together as a team to accommodate students. Our program has about 49 students.”
The department staff and students toured the new greenhouse before Thanksgiving break. Pusztay noted some students waited until this semester to take the Greenhouse Operations course so they could learn in the new building before the fall semester ends. Students also plan to use the space for its Plant Sale hosted every spring and fall semester, expanding the event’s footprint from the center’s classrooms and parking lot.“Everyone who walks in are amazed,” Pusztay said. “Today when we raised the sides up [at the ceremony], you saw everyone look. It’s an awe factor when you see all the things our students are now able to utilize.”
Other additions to the greenhouse are its system-motorized Internal Shade Cloths, an irrigation system with eight stations, its elevated location follows 100-year flood recommendations, rolling benches and an overhead rail for housing hoses (preventing hose clutter on the floor while accommodating individuals using wheelchairs). The latter addition also makes the building compliant with standards in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This is the College’s first greenhouse accessible to students with special physical needs. Pusztay said in her time teaching at other institutions, FTCC’s greenhouse is the best she’s worked and taught students in.
“I’m really impressed with all the support we get from the college and [Gibson] is very involved with the program,” she said. “This is really a top-notch greenhouse, an industry standard above what some students may work with in coming years. It’s very impressive to look inside. We’re building as we go.”
After the ceremony, attendees toured the greenhouse and spoke with students. Colorful plants in a variety of pots lined the long tables inside: annual flowers, peppers, marigold and even pogonias. Some guests left the ceremony differently than as they arrived – with a student-grown plant in their hands.
Learn more about FTCC’s Horticulture Technology program by clicking here