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Middle school dome project providing new opportunities

As a geodesic dome was erected over the past week on the west side of the Hastings Middle School, teachers and students alike became excited about the potential within.

“Every morning, pulling in (to the parking lot) was amazing,” Jordan Binfield, seventh-grade science teacher, said about watching the progress. “Then at our planning period, or bringing out maybe one of our classes and taking a look at it has been awesome to see how quickly the progress happened.”

Binfield and fellow seventh-grade science teacher Jayson Stoddard spoke about the project Friday afternoon as a crew from Growing Spaces of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, was completing the build.

Stoddard announced plans for the greenhouse in February, at which point $41,000 of the needed $65,000 had been raised.

He said credit for fundraising for the project should be given to Jessica McAndrew, executive director of the Hastings Public Schools Foundation.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Hastings Middle School seventh-grade science teachers Jayson Stoddard (left) and Jordan Binfield stand inside the new dome greenhouse at the school Friday. The pond will be filled with 3,100 gallons of water, help with temperature control in the dome and provide lessons in aquaponics.

“Jessica McAndrew was an absolutely huge asset for this project,” Stoddard said. “We would not be able to do it without her. She did her magic at the foundation. She worked really hard on the grants.”

Farris Construction, Consolidated Concrete, Rutt’s Plumbing and Big G Ace contributed labor and materials and deserve thanks, as well.

“Those handful of entities were an invaluable asset,” Stoddard said.

Binfield was astonished by the speed of the project.

“It was like this slow burn up until this point, and then all of a sudden it was just like that and we’re standing here with this finished product — for the most part — today, and now the fun for us begins,” he said.

The teachers said the 42-foot dome is a blank slate.

“There’s a million and one ways to go about it,” Binfield said. “The kids are getting excited about it. We’ll probably have one of our first, I don’t know if we’ll call it a horticulture club or what we’ll coin it, but we’ll get the group of kids that is really interested in there and start figuring out design and plant selection, and fish selection for the pond.”

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Science teacher Jayson Stoddard holds a piece of polycarbonate panel used to construct the dome greenhouse at Hastings Middle School Friday.

Inside of the dome is a pond that will be filled with 3,100 gallons of water. The pond is situated in front of reflective panels that will direct heat from incoming sunlight into the water.

“On a sunny day that’ll be absorbing energy all day long, and then at night that’ll be radiating heat throughout the space,” Stoddard said.

Geothermal vents will run through the beds along the dome’s walls controlling the temperature.

The teachers want the project to be student-driven.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

Jessamy Morby installs sheet metal to the base of a greenhouse being constructed at Hastings Middle School Wednesday.

Binfield has hardy winter greens started in his classroom.

“Obviously you can’t grow anything and everything in the wintertime,” Stoddard said.

The plan, at least for this first growing season, is to start transplants to get ready middle of February, for not only the middle school garden but to send out into the community, as well.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

Art Zeyes installs panels onto a greenhouse being constructed at Hastings Middle School Wednesday.

“Growing something and having some productivity here in the next three or four months will probably be a realistic goal,” Binfield said.

Stoddard said it will be fun to see how productive students can be with the dome in the winter months.

Like the middle garden itself, the dome is intended to be a community project.

“I think the kids like to do nice things for other people, so a large focus is what can we do to … we would like to see people using it during the day,” Stoddard said.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

A crew works to construct a greenhouse at Hastings Middle School Wednesday.

He has talked to local nursing homes about also using the space.

Although Stoddard has been looking at domes for years, he said the project would “probably not” have happened if not for the hailstorm in August 2019 that destroyed the middle school garden.

The dome is made from polycarbonate panels that provide a clear, rigid translucent covering that allows 65% light transmission that Stoddard said would withstand golf ball-sized hail.

“When you start putting up a greenhouse, the first question is, ‘What happens if you get a hailstorm?’ ” he said.

The geodesic shape is also naturally wind-resistant.

The dome will allow the middle school to garden year-round and provide lessons in hydroponics and aquaponics.

“There are countless things we can do,” Stoddard said.


Two Hastings residents vying for Little Blue NRD board seat
  • Updated

Two Hastings residents are vying for a Subdistrict 3 seat on the Little Blue Natural Resources District board of directors in this year’s general election.

Russ Hall and Jessi Ensign Hoeft are seeking a four-year term on the board to replace Everett Kellogg, who isn’t seeking re-election.

According to an introduction to the candidates published by the LBNRD, Hall is an 18-year resident of Hastings and has lived in Nebraska since 1991 after relocating from Colorado. He is employed by the U.S. Postal Service in Grand Island.

Hall said his educational background includes studies of environmental science and water and wastewater technology.

“While I’m not a farmer, I have many farmer friends and have spent time in their homes and fields,” Hall said in the candidate introduction. “I appreciate the challenges they face in trying to raise good crops and care for their land. The Midwest frank and honest manner and hospitality have always appealed to me.”

Hoeft is a Nuckolls County native who moved back to the area in 2012. She and her husband, Nathan, operate First Street Brewing Co. and Ensign Beverage Co. in downtown Hastings.

She serves on the boards of directors of the Hastings Community Foundation and the University of Nebraska Food Processing Center in Lincoln.

“Abundant water sources for all kinds of Nebraska industries, quality recreational areas and clear drinking water is something I care about,” Hoeft said in her introduction. “I look forward to learning more and helping the Little Blue NRD move forward and keep the water flowing.”

The Little Blue NRD encompasses all of Thayer County, most of Adams County and portions of Webster, Clay, Nuckolls, Fillmore and Jefferson counties. District headquarters are in Davenport.

The district’s board of directors includes 17 members — two from each of eight subdistricts, plus one member elected on at large-basis by voters districtwide. The directors are elected on a nonpartisan basis.

The opening Subdistrict 3 seat will be one of two to have a new occupant following this year’s election, for which early and mail-in and drop-off voting already are under way. Election Day is Nov. 3.

A seat in Subdistrict 2 will be filled on a write-in basis. The longtime incumbent, former Board Chairman Charles Rainforth of Hastings, isn’t seeking re-election.

The other Subdistrict 2 seat has been filled since September by Brent Hoops of Hastings, who was appointed by the board to fill a vacancy created when Director Zach Hollister moved outside the subdistrict boundaries. Hoops farms in the Hastings area.

Both Subdistrict 2 and Subdistrict 3 encompass parts of the city of Hastings. Subdistrict 2 includes much of the west central part of town, while Subdistrict 3 covers much of central and east central Hastings.

Six incumbent Little Blue NRD board members are running unopposed for new four-year terms of office. They include Mason Hoffman of Roseland (Subdistrict 1), Jesse VonSpreckelsen of Clay Center (Subdistrict 4), Steve Shaw of Edgar (Subdistrict 5), Lyle Schroer of Lawrence (Subdistrict 6), Alan Wiedel of Hebron (Subdistrict 7) and Jay Meyer of Daykin (Subdistrict 8).