NEWMAN - A neglected, largely unused greenhouse tucked away behind the ag shops and classrooms at Orestimba High could become a flourishing, hands-on learning center in the months to come.

A delegation of honors ag science students went before the school board recently to outline the ag department’s plan to renovate the greenhouse, which they view as providing opportunities for any interested student - an ag class member or otherwise - and the community as a whole.

Teacher Gino Farinelli said the greenhouse has the potential to broaden Orestimba’s courses of study and career pathways.

In addition, he explained, the department hopes to use the greenhouse as a springboard toward offering a subscription-based program which delivers fresh produce to community members and perhaps support a farmer’s market.

For now, though, the 25-foot by 50-foot greenhouse sits mostly unused.

“The greenhouse has been non-operational since the early 2000s as far as we know from asking people who have been here,” said Farinelli. “It needs everything. Right now it is just a shell. We need everything from the cooling system to tables to irrigation.”

The cost of that comes to more than $11,000 - money which Superintendent Randy Fillpot announced at the meeting is available for the project.

That’s for the renovation itself. Fund-raising efforts and proceeds from events such as the community-supported agriculture subscriptions and plant sales will be needed to sustain the greenhouse.

“If we are going to put that kind of money in from CTA (career technical education funds) for the greenhouse, it needs to be sustainable,” Fillpot stated.

He and board members expressed their enthusiasm for the project and its potential.

“Six years ago when I came to this district I kept looking at this greenhouse and asking (why it was not being utilized),” the superintendent noted.

“This is a legacy. It is like our almond orchard,” said board President Janice Conforti. “It is for many, many years. I think our community would be very appreciative of it.”

While livestock projects are commonplace, board member Paul Wallace pointed out, employment is far more plentiful in plant-related agricultural fields.

Farinelli agreed in a later conversation with Mattos Newspapers.

“There are more jobs in the plant side than any other aspect of agriculture,” he said. “If we are not training our students where the jobs are at, we are not doing our jobs as teachers.”

The absence of a viable greenhouse has been a “huge hindrance,” Farinelli added.

“If you are trying to teach a horticulture or plant science pathway, you are very limited in what you can do through the winter,” the ag teacher commented. “Plant science has not been a focus here. How many kids have we lost in the process? How many more students could we have put out in the work force?”

Farinelli said the honors ag science class (officially known as the advanced interdisciplinary science for sustainable agriculture course) has taken the lead in researching the elements of the renovation project, and that students will be used wherever feasible to make the greenhouse improvements.

A number of different classes and departments will be involved in rebuilding and using the greenhouse, he added.

“We are going to involve the art department, engineering and robotics, and we are partnering with the special education department,” Farinelli stated. “We are trying to make it accessible for everybody across the curriculum.”

The greenhouse will be designed with sustainability in mind, he added, with the goals of adding solar panels and water capture/recycling systems.

The greenhouse will be used year-round, he noted, and enhance opportunities for FFA members to take plant projects to the county fair in July.

His hope is to have the greenhouse operational by February, Farinelli told Mattos Newspapers, but whether that time frame is realistic remains to be seen.