While crushed stone was being laid for the base of a hoop house-style greenhouse at Winnisquam Middle School, volunteers from both the school and Belknap Landscape Company secured the edges of the underlying landscape fabric placed over the soil. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
May 30, 2019TILTON – Belknap Landscaping provided a first-rate example of what it means to be a community partner last weekend, when volunteers of the Gilford company, including owner Hayden McLaughlin, rolled up their sleeves to help Winnisquam Regional Middle School break ground for a hoop house-style greenhouse, which will become a new multi-faceted learning center for the school.
WRMS Principal Michael Bryant and faculty members also lent a hand on Saturday and Bryant said he's excited to bring a new educational experience to his students.
"We see this as an outdoor classroom," he said.
In the past year, Southwick School has been broadening the horizons of third through fifth grade students with programs such as Trout in the Classroom, indoor gardening projects under grow lights, and a new greenhouse behind the building. Last week bees and a pollinator garden were added to their nature education programs. Bryant said that Sanbornton Central School has similar ideas and, since all of those students eventually move up to the middle school, it only made sense to keep that interest in agriculture going.
"We want to build a bridge between those elementary school experiences and the Ag program at the high school," he explained.
Dr. Eric Keck, principal of Southwick School, offered to provide Bryant with the components of a hoop house that came with the greenhouse his school purchased. A chance phone call from Belknap Landscape Company soon set everything else in motion.
Jeff Sirles of BLC called Bryant to see if there might be any projects the school could use some help with. Expecting that groundwork for a hoop house was more than they had in mind, Bryant asked anyway and Sirles quickly said, "Let's do it!"
"At Belknap Landscape we think it's important for younger students to get exposure to agriculture and we were excited when we heard what they wanted to do here," Sirles said. "Hands on learning can be important. For some children it might be a way to get them interested in agriculture and lead them to pursue it in secondary education. For others, it can provide them with a better understanding of horticulture."
Last, Belknap Landscape brought in equipment to remove six-inches of sod from a portion of the school's courtyard. Landscape fabric was then laid out and one and one-half inches of crushed stone was spread on top of that. Sirles explained the stone would be the surface of the hoop house, providing good footing and the proper water drainage that would prolong its life. Volunteers then installed a wooden barrier along the edge of the gravel to hold back the surrounding grass and soil.
Among the volunteers was Dan Outhoummontry of Belmont. Outhoummontry is a sophomore at Belmont High School who will be attending Winnisquam High School's Agricultural program in the fall. By coincidence he also works part time for Belknap Landscape and when he heard about the project readily agreed to help.
Excitement like that is what Bryant and the faculty is excited about. Students coming to WRMS from Southwick next fall will already have had experience with a greenhouse and can help get others interested, too. The hope is that that interestwill continue on to the Ag program in high school or at least make students more educated about growing plants and vegetables.
Science teacher Chris Hampe said the hoop house provides him with even more learning opportunities for his students. He looks forward to having them grow pumpkins for the school's fall festivals, exposing them to the science of hydroponics, and even teaching them plant genetics through peas they can grow in the hoop house.
"It will give them a taste of things they might want to do later. This is great. It's long overdue," Hampe said.
Health teacher Jess Diedrich was also excited as she pitched in with construction Saturday morning. By growing vegetables right at the school, she looks forward to integrating that experience into her nutrition classes. Eighth grade teacher Susan Hewey is also planning new ways in which math, reading and other subjects can be explored through horticulture.
For Jennifer Solter-Jones, the animal and plant science teacher for the WRHS Ag program, it was exactly what she wanted to see at the middle school level.
"We've been trying to find ways to connect younger students with the Ag program and this, and what they're already doing at Southwick, is definitely a step in the right direction. It's very exciting," she said.
WRMS already has an FFA club that works with students in the high school's FFA program. Through the hoop house, she and Bryant both hope they will also see interest in FFA grow.
Bryant said the next step will be assembling the framework for the 40-by-15-foot structure, then placing the tarp covering over it. At the moment, the tarp is the one missing piece to the project but he hopes that another local business might step up and help with that final component. If everything falls into place, the hoop house will be complete by the end of this school year or early this summer.
"We'll definitely be able to start using it when the students come back to school in the fall," said Bryant.
He added that he is most grateful to Sirles, McLaughlin and everyone who volunteered to get the project going. He said Sirles was especially helpful by coordinating the entire work day, from assembling his Belknap Landscape crew and equipment to even overseeing the drop off of crushed stone donated by Nutter Enterprises in Belmont.
"Community outreach is huge with us here at the school and we're excited about the partnerships we have with people like Belknap Landscape and the UNH Cooperative Extension. We ultimately hope to develop pathways for our students who come to know these companies we partner with and perhaps someday seek jobs or internships with them," Bryant said.