Greenhouse dream becoming reality for Brooklyn school
by Andrew Shilling
Dec 17, 2013 | 722 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rendering of the greenhouse at P.S. 84.
Rendering of the greenhouse at P.S. 84.
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Borough President Marty Markowitz and Councilwoman Diana Reyna.
Borough President Marty Markowitz and Councilwoman Diana Reyna.
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Heather Langsner and Diana Zelvin.
Heather Langsner and Diana Zelvin.
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Borough President Marty Markowitz receives a plaque and sculpture of gratitude from students at P.S. 84
Borough President Marty Markowitz receives a plaque and sculpture of gratitude from students at P.S. 84
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When P.S. 84 Jose De Diego parents Diana Zelvin and Heather Langsner heard the principal had plans for a rooftop garden, they immediately formed the Greenhouse Committee and set forth on a mission to take the idea to the next level.

Now, they have secured $1.2 million in public and private funding, and plans for a new rooftop greenhouse have been finalized and are now awaiting construction bids.

Zelvin, formerly a nutrition counselor and therapist, saw the 24,000-square-foot rooftop as a blank slate and an opportunity to bring new programming to the school, located at 250 Berry St. in Williamsburg.

She contacted NY Sun Works, a nonprofit organization that specializes in building rooftop greenhouses, for insight on how to build the structure and eventually commissioned them to provide the curriculum.

“We have a huge rooftop that cries out for something,” Zelvin said.

After seeking out help from local politicians, the Greenhouse Committee set forth on a massive fundraising initiative to bring their vision to fruition.

“I was knocking on doors,” she said, adding they even had an anonymous donor of $80,000 for the equipment. “We had kids giving pennies and grandparents giving donations.”

Gregory Kiss and his team at the Brooklyn-based Kiss & Cathcart Architects have been working with Zelvin and the Greenhouse Committee on the plans over the last year.

“We’re really interested, as architects, in ways to integrate green principles into buildings,” Kiss said. “Growing food and plants is the ultimate green technology, and making a building have that as part of it in a way that looks good as well is one of the highest, most challenging opportunities out there.”

The new greenhouse is expected to provide the school with a variety of new curriculum, including ways to study soil-enriching insects, hydroponic systems, and nutrient film technique (NFT) systems, a method that provides a thin flow of nutrient filled liquid to accelerate plant growth without soil and on a limited water supply.

Principal Sereida Rodriguez initially set out with a plan to build a rooftop garden, however her school is now in the midst of something bigger than she could have ever imagined.

“This greenhouse means a lot to us because we’ve been doing a lot of work in building the community,” Rodriguez said. “There has been a common language brought to the neighborhood with the gardens, and the greenhouse is just going to make it even better.”

Councilwoman Diana Reyna, a friend of Rodriguez since childhood, has been integral in supporting the greenhouse.

“This community has challenged itself enough to know how to navigate government and get what they need,” Reyna said. “With the school leadership team, they will see the first STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program in this district in north Brooklyn.”

Councilman Stephen Levin joined Reyna and Borough President Marty Markowitz for an appreciation ceremony from the students and staff for allocating public funds to the project.

Rodriguez and the students said their version of STEM is actually called “STEAM,” which she said adds the arts elements to the equation, and presented the representatives with brightly painted clay sculptures.

“P.S. 84 is an incredibly inspiring school to all of us because what it has shown is that through a collaboration and making sure there is a community investments in a public school we can achieve great and amazing things,” Levin said. “It is the collaboration that makes that happen.”

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