February 9, 2010

Students Give Plastic Bottles New Life

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Through a new community partnership initiative led by the residents of William Keeton House, the Ithaca Children’s Garden will soon own a new sustainable greenhouse constructed from 1,500 recycled two-liter bottles, according to Ethan Stephenson, assistant house dean.

Although the project is still in its early stages, the students have already acquired a $2,000 grant from the Community Partnership Board (CPB), an on-campus student organization that funds student-run grassroots community service efforts. They will use the money to purchase supplies such as bamboo shoots and rot resistant hardwood to build the frame for the five-by-six foot greenhouse, which is scheduled to be completed by April 10th, said Meghan P. Cerveny, manager of the Ithaca Children’s Garden and Horticulture Apprentice Program leader.

When Keeton House was established in 2008, Stephenson and Dean Jefferson Cowie planned to create a partnership between the house residents and an organization in the community, Stephenson said.

In 2009, Stephenson met Cerveny at a public service center fair on campus and decided that her organization was the perfect match for the Keeton House initiative.

Like Keeton House, the Ithaca Children’s Garden was founded in 2008. The garden, located in Cass Park, offers educational classes, tours, and workshops for both children and parents. Visitors to the garden get free admission to see park attractions like an edible herb garden, a labyrinth and a bird habitat, according to the Ithaca Children’s Garden website.

According to Stephenson, Cerveny had a long list of potential projects that included constructing the sustainable greenhouse. But recent staff and hour cuts and a dearth of funding prevented her from completing them on her own. Cerveny said that she took the greenhouse idea from Harriet Becker, co-founder of the garden, who saw one of the bottle greenhouses at a school in Australia.

“The greenhouse concept seemed like the sexiest project they had in terms of attracting students to work with this organization,” Stephenson said.

The greenhouse will enable the garden to raise different plants that they might otherwise struggle to grow in the cold Ithaca weather, as well as protect certain vegetation from being eaten by rabbits and deer, said Dayna Zolle ‘11, who wrote and submitted the CPB grant proposal for the project.

“It was helpful that I had been a [CPB] member in the past because I knew what types of things they look for,” Zolle said. “They like fresh ideas and start-up projects, and ours was a brand new concept.”

However, the grant money will not pay for the 1,500 two-liter plastic bottles that are needed to build the greenhouse. Because of this, the student volunteers are currently working on getting organizations in the community to donate the bottles, including on-campus fraternity and sorority houses, local churches, other religious groups and elementary schools, Cohen said.

“You could easily spend a lot more on this project,” Cerveny said. “But since we’re utilizing volunteers and local resources, it’s going to really bring the cost down.”

The volunteers may also bring in local elementary school students to assist in the construction of the greenhouse, Stephenson said.

“Since the greenhouse is there for the children to use, it’ll be much more fun and exciting for them if it doesn’t just appear and they’re actually involved in the construction,” said Nzhinga Ford ‘10, a Keeton House volunteer also in charge of advertising for the project.

Once all the bottles have been collected, they will be cleaned and the ends will be cut off so they can be stapled to a larger frame that will serve as the walls of the greenhouse, Stephenson said. The volunteers are also considering integrating a design on the walls if they get enough different colored bottles, according to Cohen.

Cerveny pointed out that this project unites a variety of people in the Ithaca area, from college students and professors to children and parents. Although Keeton House is leading the initiative for the building of the greenhouse and the future collaboration between the dorm and the garden, the project is open to all volunteers.

“There is not a whole lot of interaction between college students and their community unless they’re eating out or going to the movies,” Stephenson said, “and with this project, we’re trying to break that bubble.”

Original Author: Samantha Willner