There are more than 2,300 individual plants living in the Cal Poly plant conservatory — and they are all getting evicted this summer. The on-campus facility is getting torn down to make space for the Science and Agriculture Teaching and Research Complex, which will begin construction May 2019.
Conservatory members are currently working with the Horticulture and Crop Science Department to secure a temporary space to store the plants while a new plant conservatory is built. The university originally told conservatory volunteers that a new, permanent facility would be available to move the plants into before demolition. Four months away from the expected demolition date, funding for the new conservatory has yet to be secured.
The plant conservatory has five different climate-controlled greenhouses to accommodate more than 1,100 plant species from across the globe. The temporary space will only be able to maintain one climate, which student curator and agricultural and environmental plant sciences senior Molly Vanderlip said will keep the plants surviving but not thriving.
Vanderlip has been volunteering at the conservatory since Winter quarter her freshman year and now holds a paid position. She is in the conservatory every weekday to water, weed and care for the plants.
“This has been the most important thing for my college experience,” Vanderlip said. “This place is where I do the hands-on stuff for my major. People care about it. There’s [alumni] that come in and say ‘Oh, I worked here 10 years ago, this is awesome that it’s still here, it was such a life-shaping place for me’ and I’m like, ‘Me too!’”
There are about 20 weekly volunteers at the conservatory, but more than 2,000 students visit the conservatory each year during classes.
“I think [the conservatory loss] is really going to affect the biology programs,” Vanderlip said. “When you walk into a certain greenhouse, like the desert or tropical room, you are in the environment with the plants, and you’re feeling, ‘Oh, it’s hot in this greenhouse’ or ‘It’s humid.’ You associate and learn more than just seeing a plant in a classroom.”
The conservatory is open to the public and students from all majors are encouraged to visit. Physics sophomore Jack Crofton started visiting the conservatory last year during his class breaks and said he decided to start officially volunteering at the beginning of winter quarter this year.
“I’m excited for a new greenhouse, because this place is old, some of the heaters don’t work and everything’s leaking,” Crofton said. “But, I think they should build the new place before they tear [the current one] down. They said it’s going to be up by the start of next year, but they haven’t even started so I don’t think that’s realistic. It’s a bummer. ”
Vanderlip said some supporters are planning to protest the demolition if funding for the new facility is not secured before the tear down date.
“If they can’t promise they will build a new one because there isn’t funding, we can say ‘Okay, you’re not going to take down the old one,’” Vanderlip said. “We can be in here when they come with bulldozers, because there’s a lot of people that care about this place.”
University spokesperson Matt Lazier was unable to confirm the funding timeline for the new conservatory, but wrote in an email to Mustang News that the new conservatory is part of the overall Science and Agriculture Teaching and Research Complex project, which is receiving funding from various sources.
“It’s really sad that people in our society don’t know anything about plants,” Vanderlip said. “Think in your head how many brand [logos] you could look at and know, but how many plants can you look at and know? The conservatory is where volunteers and classes can come in and learn. It’s so exciting seeing people stoked on plants.”