Construction Begins on New Arboretum Greenhouse & Education Center

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Swatties wandering past McCabe or towards Willets may have noticed a new set of fences going up near the Arboretum offices this past week, marking the first phase of construction on the new Wister Greenhouse and Education Center. The new center will be considerably larger than the current structure and is designed to accommodate increased plant propagation as well as house more resources for community outreach and education.

Director of Scott Arboretum, Claire Sawyers, says the Arboretum has been planning and fundraising for the new center since 2004. “We raised money for the project through general appeals and plant sale proceeds… the Arboretum also recently received some grant support as well as a gift of $237,500 from the College,” Sawyers explains. The arboretum still has about $600,000 left to raise for the $3.8 million venture, an oversight that is largely a result of sharply escalating construction costs.

Construction commenced this past Wednesday with the demolition of the existing structure, a small 30 x 30 ft relic from the 80s. Sawyers claims “engineering students were originally involved in the design of the existing structure which employed a passive solar heating system.” The building embodied progressive thinking about passive ventilation and other structural methods but has since aged and deteriorated significantly. Sawyers says “the glazing has begun to fall off. Ventilation is not sufficient. The building no longer meets our needs and has been in bad shape or years now.”

The new Wister Greenhouse and Education Center, whose namesake honors long-time arboretum director John Wister, will be ~5200 sq ft and will provide “not just a growing space for plants but a place to bring people and plants together,” Semler says. The design will incorporate a greenhouse propagation room “with misters and benches to take cuttings or start seeds”, growing houses, classrooms with audiovisual equipment for horticultural lectures and demonstrations, a small kitchenette, and a volunteers’ space for the Arboretum Assistants program. An additional outdoor teaching garden will service as a spillout space.

Jan Semler, the Facilities construction coordinator for the project, says she “anticipates having construction completely finished by next September.” The new building will be tucked behind Willets and sit next to the distinctively-domed Cunningham House.

Semler also expects to get the new structure certified by the US Green Building Council, much like the Science Center. “The greenhouse has an interesting heating system that ties into the existing chilled water loop. We’re doing some innovative things with this design. The building is going to be a good candidate for silver LEED certification, which is actually one level above the Science Center.” Sawyers added that the center will also include parking spaces for fuel-efficient vehicles, a small green roof, and wooden shingles made out of trees that were previously cut down to make room for Alice Paul.

As for disruption to students living in Willets, Semler assures that “there will be little disruption and noise for residents of Willets…It’s a smaller building, with a partial basement and only one story, so there won’t be any big cranes involved and very little excavation.” There will also be little interference with paths around Willets, with the trenching of a utilities live over to Mccabe occurring over winter break. In an email sent to Willets residents, Housing Coordinator Rachel Head encouraged students to lodge any complaints or concerns with their RAs or herself. Additionally, any students having too much trouble with the noise can pick up free earplugs in the Housing Office.

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