The  Cal Poly Plant Conservatory  was demolished this summer to make way for the Science and Agriculture Teaching and Research Complex. However, the new Plant Conservatory will not be completed until September 2020, leaving 1,500 plants still in need of a home until then.

Construction of the new research center began in May 2019. The plants were moved to a temporary space: the Soil Science Greenhouse near the Cal Poly Arboretum, after the demolition in July.

This has changed the curriculum for those who used the old conservatory for their classes, according to biological sciences professor and Cal Poly Plant Conservatory Director Matt Ritter.  

“It’s really far from the [Biological Sciences] building, so it’s changed the way we’ve offered some of the classes,” Ritter said. “We’ll have a year of operating that way before this new one comes.”

Agricultural and environmental plant sciences senior Molly Vanderlip said that the temporary space at the Soil Science Greenhouse is not as accessible as the old conservatory, which she said takes away the community aspect that the old conservatory created.

“[The old conservatory] was in the center of campus, there would be people in and out all the time and it was very much a community space,” Vanderlip said. “People would come in, we’d talk about plants or look at something cool that was blooming and just have fun. Here, it’s been quiet.”

The plants were moved to a temporary space, the Soil Science Greenhouse near the Cal Poly Arboretum, after the demolition in July. Connor Frost | Mustang News

Recent agricultural and environmental plant sciences graduate and Instructional Support Technician Gage Willey is helping maintain the plants during this transition phase. Willey said the temporary space is not ideal for all the plants to live in. The temporary space can only maintain one climate, unlike the old conservatory which had five different climate-controlled greenhouses to meet the needs of different species of plants.

“Space is very limited here and having everything in the same environment gets a little un-ideal,” Willey said. “Everything likes a little bit of a different environment, climate, humidity [and] temperature.”

The temporary space is located near the Environmental Horticulture Science Complex (Building 48V), which offers resources and equipment that makes it easier to care for the plants, Willey said.

Before the demolition, there were more than 2,300 plants. Now, there are about 1,500 plants since the temporary space cannot hold as many as before. Ritter said that although not all of the plants could be saved, the amount of species is still about the same.

Video by Patrick Madden

Ritter also added that the old conservatory had serious issues that needed to be addressed. The designs for the new conservatory still need to be finalized before construction begins, but Ritter said he is excited for the new facility.

“We had serious issues with trying to [maintain] the temperature and humidity and all the things of how a greenhouse functions was very difficult with that building,” Ritter said. “It won’t be difficult in this new building.”

The new conservatory will feature a tropical house, desert house, cool tropical house, as well as a propagation greenhouse and research greenhouses. It will also be taller to allow students to grow trees, unlike before. Ritter said that the new conservatory will also have a living wall, which is a wall of plants, all around the conservatory.

“This is going to be a building like no other building,” Ritter said. “I think it’s going to be a jewel up there.”

Habitat Horticulture, a living wall company, donated $25 million to fund the new building. The new conservatory will be located near Poly Canyon Village (PCV). 

Vanderlip and Willey said it was sad to see the old conservatory go, but the new conservatory will be even better and gain more traffic.

“That was a very special place for me, but the new one is going to be amazing,” Vanderlip said.

“It’s very special to get a conservatory versus having one that has been aging,” Willey said. “It’s worth the heartache.”

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