As the City of Saint Louis redefines and renews itself, important choices must be made regarding economic development, social balance and growth, infrastructure, education, and other essential factors to ensure a competitive, vibrant and relevant future for the region. Those choices are particularly crucial for a city whose population has declined from over 850,000 in the 1950's to under 320,000 today, creating an ever-present pressure and urgency to determine the best course for the community to survive and thrive.
Within this climate, community meetings occurred in the fall of 2014 involving residents of the city's Shaw neighborhood, professionals from a variety of disciplines, and representatives of Saint Louis University to discuss the development of an urban resource center focused on two significant challenges facing St. Louis and other large American cities: poor nutrition and inadequate science education. From this series of community meetings grew a commitment to develop a project called the Green House Venture focused on urban food production using a unique combination of education techniques for elementary school students.
To bring the project to life, several key steps were taken. A formal organization was created; a 501(c)(3) designation was obtained; a Board of Directors was formed; legal and organizational structures were created for the Urban Education Alliance District; and an architectural firm was retained to design and build a facility. The location for Venture center was chosen in an area with a concentration of elementary schools that are in close proximity to major scientific, educational and economic institutions. Working under the direction of Saint Louis University, the four elementary schools comprising the newly formed District include:
- Tower Grove Christian Academy
- Mullanphy Investigative Learning Center
- Saint Louis Language Immersion Schools
- Saint Margaret of Scotland
This unique education partnership contains over 2,000 students, representing African American, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic and Multi-Racial students. The principals of these schools and professors from Saint Louis University will guide the development of the curriculum and design of the facility. The focal point of the Green House Venture is a science education and outreach center containing approximately 8,000 square feet, located at the intersection of Lawrence and DeTonty Streets. It will contain a greenhouse, a classroom, a children's growing gallery, and a teaching lab, all designed to stimulate an interest in science, urban food production, community engagement, sustainability and economic development.
Inside the facility, the Venture will demonstrate a number of sophisticated aquaponic growing techniques involving fish breeding, plant fertilization from fish tanks, soiless beds, and vertical plant growing. Outside, it will feature a weather station, an ozone garden, a shade trellis, a climbing fruit garden, a pollinator garden, and light-weight aeroponic growing on a roof-top terrace. Across DeTonty Street on the I-44 hillside, will be a series of raised terraces for growing native Missouri crops. To broaden the access and impact of the project, the facility will be equipped with advanced technological capabilities to reach out to other schools in the metropolitan area through online videos and living streaming of teaching sessions. Portable school kits also will be made available for teachers to take back to their classrooms.
The building and its contents will cost $3.5 million, and it will be operated by Saint Louis University. Fund raising for the project is underway, and it is expected to be completed and operational by 2019.
The Green House Venture is truly a unique addition to the education landscape of Saint Louis, one that will bring significant focus to critical health and education issues that that must be addressed to ensure the future vitality of the region.