Space to grow: Renovations to make Illick Hall greenhouse more accessible for visitors

Micah Benson | Art Director

Even though the plants are miles away and construction hasn’t started, Lindsay Rutte is already thinking of ways to make the layout of the new Illick Hall rooftop greenhouse more appealing to visitors.

“I’m really excited that we have this whole new space that we can turn into something more attractive to SU students,” she said.

Rutte, a sophomore environmental biology major, works under the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s greenhouse manager Terry Ettinger and cares for all of the college’s greenhouses and plants.

The plants are currently housed at ESF’s Lafayette Road Experimental Station, at the southern border of Syracuse, while a new greenhouse with some significant structural changes is being built to replace the old rooftop greenhouse on Illick Hall, Ettinger said.

New greenhouse doors, which have already been delivered, will improve access to the greenhouse and make accessing rooms and moving plants around the facility much easier, he said.

Under ideal conditions, Ettinger said, the new greenhouses should be able to start holding plants again by late next year.

But he also said he knows everything rarely goes perfectly with construction projects and he personally doesn’t think any plants will be moved back into the greenhouse until 2014.

Since the start of the project, many plumbing and electrical systems have been removed from inside Illick Hall and the entire upper roof of the building has been replaced, Ettinger said. Most recently, about 16,000 square feet of concrete has been removed from the lower roof of Illick Hall so that a membrane to prevent leaking can be inserted, he said.

The construction of the new greenhouse officially began in early July, Ettinger said. It is funded by yearly critical maintenance funds from the SUNY system.

The entire renovation of Illick Hall costs about $8.5 million, Ettinger said. Just the building of the new greenhouse costs about $2.5 to $3.5 million, he added.

The focus of the entire project is to prevent leaks in the roof, Ettinger said. To do this, the roof needed to be replaced and since the greenhouse and the roof are all one piece, the greenhouse needed to be replaced as well.

When the greenhouse is completed, it will look like one large structure with three external faces, Ettinger said. The one large structure will be divided up into numerous smaller compartments that are devoted to the research of just ESF students and professors.

Although there will be about 1,000 square feet of new greenhouse space, there will be about 40 fewer feet of space devoted to the actual plant collection than in the older greenhouse, he said.

But there will still be just as many different species of plants represented, just not as many individual specimens of each species. The new greenhouse will have plants from everywhere except temperate New York, which includes 100 or more plant families, Ettinger said.

“Instead of only being able to have trees that are only 10 feet tall, now we can have trees in our exhibit that are about 20 feet tall,” Ettinger said.

Allison Oakes, a graduate plant science and biotechnology major, is working on a study that began in the old Illick Hall greenhouse to make the American chestnut tree resistant to a virus from Asia.

Oakes said that one of the first hybrid, blight resistant trees was produced in the old greenhouse on top of Illick Hall and she thinks the new greenhouse will be an excellent place to continue this and other research projects involving trees.

Ettinger said the renovation process of Illick Hall and the building of the new greenhouse have been difficult in some ways for students and faculty since construction is often going on while they are occupying the building for research or classes.

“It’s testing the patience of students and faculty,” Ettinger said. “But the inconvenience now should pay off down the road.”


Top Stories