Geodesic growing dome nears completion on CMC campus, benefits multiple programs
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A geodesic growing dome has been erected at Bear Park on the Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs campus off of Crawford Avenue. The structure will serve, in part, as a greenhouse, extending the growing season and benefiting the sustainability studies program as well as others.
The dome is one part of an expansion project that was approved two years ago, allowing the college to construct the dome, a teaching pavilion and a restroom. While the outside of the dome is complete, plumbing and electric are still being installed. The inside will take time to fill as well. Tina Evans, CMC professor of sustainability studies, expects the entire project to be completed sometime next summer.
When it’s done, the dome will be full of trees, flowers and edible plants, offering a hands-on and in-person experience for students enrolled in the college’s sustainability studies, permaculture and culinary programs.
“Clearly, its benefit is as an educational space, a demonstration space for growing in our region,” Evans said. “It’s really an awesome venue for learning about growing food year round in the challenging environment in a mountain community.”
Evans said the Steamboat Springs growing season is 59 days and occurs in the summer when few students are on campus. The dome will allow year-round growing.
The design of the inside and outside gardens at Bear Park, where the dome is located, was created using permaculture, which creates beneficial relationships between all the elements of the garden. Some plants provide shade, and others offer ground cover. Some will draw in pollinators, and others repel pests. The strength of one plant benefits all of them.
“We’re trying to create systems that take care of themselves a little bit more than our food systems do in monoculture agriculture,” Evans said. “We’ll have nitrogen-fixing plants in with other plants. We’ll grow plants that provide really good mulch that pull nutrients up from the soil.”
The dome, which was funded by the Yampa Valley Electric Association’s Roundup program, the Craig-Scheckman Family Foundation and an anonymous donor, was purchased from a Colorado company called Growing Spaces. The structure is 42 feet in diameter, or nearly 1,400 square feet. The triangle panels, made of polycarbonate, are not only structurally strong but hold in heat and disperse light better than other materials like glass.
The interior of the dome will also be home to an aquaculture project of large water tanks filled with fish, although Evans isn’t sure what type of fish yet. The water filled with fish excrement will serve as fertilizer.
The water tanks, as well as the cement, stones and the soil, are all thermal masses, or materials that absorb and release heat slowly. Having many thermal mass materials inside the dome will help the structure retain heat lonhrt.
To help maintain an ideal temperature, a climate battery will be installed below the dome. When the dome gets too hot, the battery will pull air into the cool ground. When temperatures in the dome drop, stored hot air in the battery tubes will be released back into the structure.
“We hope to maintain a Mediterranean-like climate where it doesn’t freeze in there or freeze often,” Evans said. “We will have heaters in there for some of those days where it’s 30 below … but we expect to avoid running them.”
Evans and her colleagues won’t truly know what the climate in the dome will be like until it’s completed and they start planting.
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