UMPI Hosts Groundbreaking for Ag Science Teaching and Research Greenhouse

State-of-the-art greenhouse to provide year-round research opportunities and support for the region’s agricultural industry; Maine Potato Board a partner in fund raising.

The University of Maine at Presque Isle celebrated the forthcoming construction of its state-of-the art, four-season teaching and research greenhouse with a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, April 25. The greenhouse—a $935,000, 2,400-square-foot structure to be located in a spot adjacent to Gentile Hall and close to the campus’s year-round composting site—will include two climate-controlled research labs, a teaching classroom, and a faculty office for the Dr. Robert Vinton Akeley Chair of Agricultural Science and Agribusiness.

The Maine Potato Board was among a number of funding sources assisting in raising funds for the greenhouse and UMPI’s new Agricultural Science and Agribusiness bachelor’s degree program in the heart of Maine’s premier agricultural region.

“We are so pleased to be breaking ground on this high-quality, high tech facility to provide our students with incredible hands-on learning experiences as well as research opportunities that help address real issues our region’s agricultural industry is facing,” UMPI President Ray Rice said. “Our Ag Science Bachelor’s degree program, in the heart of Maine’s premier agricultural region, has been 100 years in the making, and we couldn’t be happier to see it gaining so much ground—so to speak—this soon after its establishment.”

The greenhouse’s state-of-the-art design, by Dirigo Architectural Engineering of Turner, will maximize energy and operational efficiency. PNM Construction of Presque Isle will serve as general contractor on the project. Key features of the greenhouse include double layer polycarbonate transparent panels for the roof and walls, LED grow light systems, watering and ventilation systems—including destratification, exhaust, and circulation fans, and an advanced climate control system and sensor capacity. The technology will help support UMPI’s current research efforts such as disease management, soil fertility, and economic opportunities for Maine growers and agricultural producers.

In attendance at the groundbreaking were Dr. Don and Linda Zillman, donors who provided the very first gift for the greenhouse.

“This is a facility that has long belonged on the UMPI campus, so we are delighted to see it established now and to be a part of making it happen,” the Zillmans said. “We look forward to it being a highly utilized space for education, community connections, and, of course, a highly sought after spot to enjoy, especially during the deep of winter.”

In addition to support from the Zillmans, the greenhouse project has been made possible through several funding sources, including grants from the Maine Economic Improvement Fund and the Maine Community Foundation, as well as gifts from the Maine Potato Board, Farm Credit East, McCain Foods, MMG Insurance, University Credit Union, KeyBank, Katahdin Trust Company, Aroostook County Safety Directors, Mary Akeley Smith, and Helen McConnell.

The greenhouse will be used for various educational and research activities, including courses on plant biology, soil science, plant and crop science, and integrated pest management. Students will receive training in greenhouse crop production, sensor utilization, and analyzing remote monitoring, production, and energy cost data in order to develop a deeper understanding of greenhouse economics that they can bring into the workforce. Faculty will utilize the new facility to host professional development workshops for training in techniques such as seedling production and grafting, and collaborate with community and state partners such as the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine Farm Bureau, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Future Farmers of America, Maine Farmland Trust, the Maine Potato Board, McCain Foods, and the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Association.

“This greenhouse will not only be a center for training students and community members in greenhouse and agricultural practices, it will also be a place where we create new knowledge to inform and improve the regional agricultural economy and prepare skilled workers for one of the County’s primary economic drivers,” Dr. Jason Johnston, Dean of UMPI’s College of Arts and Sciences, said. “With this greenhouse, our new agriculture program, and our local partnerships, we are finally positioned to participate in this very important sector of our agricultural economy and to contribute to the pipeline of agricultural education, research, and economic development that we have here in Aroostook County.”

UMPI’s Agricultural Science and Agribusiness Program has been in high gear since it launched last fall. In October, UMPI received a $1 million gift from benefactor Mary Barton Akeley Smith to establish its first ever endowed chair: the Dr. Robert Vinton Akeley Chair of Agricultural Science and Agribusiness, a permanent faculty position within the Ag Science Program. With greenhouse construction getting underway in late spring, officials anticipate that it will be completed in time for a dedication during Homecoming Weekend.

“We are so very appreciative of the broad-based support we have received from businesses and individuals alike for our new greenhouse,” Dr. Debbie Roark, UMPI Executive Director for University Advancement and External Affairs, said. “This support has allowed us to host today’s event and further our research and training in the Ag industry. We are grateful for their trust, confidence, and partnership in moving our vision to reality.”

For more information about the greenhouse project, please contact Dr. Roark at 207-768-9755 or or Dr. Johnston at 207-768-9652 or