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St. Albans High School staff members are on the lookout for individuals and businesses to get behind a unique dome so SAHS students can get inside it and produce produce.

A self-sustaining, solar-powered geodesic dome, dubbed The “Dragon Dome,” will be used for the Science Department’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program and Pro-Start classes to teach students sustainable agriculture methods.

SAHS Science Department Chair and STEAM Program Director Caitlyn Dixon said the dome has been made possible thus far by grants she received from the Toshiba America Foundation and the West Virginia Department of Education in 2018.

“That’s where the bulk of the funding came from,” Dixon said last week. “We also used some of the grant money to put state-of-the-art biotechnology equipment in our classes. Pre-COVID-19, we were going to put some of that money in our business department and bulk up our 3D printing equipment, but the pandemic kind of put all of that on the back burner.”

Dixon said the SAHS geodesic growing dome was manufactured by Growing Spaces in Colorado and is the only one of its kind at a West Virginia school.

“Its long-term use will be for all of our environmental and biology classes, so that the students can get hands-on experience and see what sustainable agriculture looks like,” she said.

The restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic had a couple of “up” sides in getting the dome built, Dixon said. The downtime and favorable weather enabled volunteers to construct the dome’s exterior earlier this summer, for one.

“We have the actual physical structure here, built by a team of staff volunteers here at St. Albans High School,” Dixon explained. “Prior to the shutdown, students at the Ben Franklin Career Center framed out the structure, and we’ve partnered with St. Albans Public Works. It’s really a whole community project.

“During this downtime, everybody started to take an interest in gardening,” she added. “We’re hoping to capitalize on that interest as the kids return to school.

The dome is “a four-season grower,” she said, “so we’ll be able to use it year-round. It has a 700-gallon water tank to regulate the temperature. It’s heated and cooled by solar panels and has automated vents.”

The Dragon Dome will also enable Red Dragon students to grow and provide farm-to-table produce for their classmates and themselves, Dixon noted.

“Pro-Start, the school’s culinary program, will be working closely with our science department and career and technical education program, so students will see everything go from seed to what’s on their plate at lunch,” she said.

Donations are needed to fund the dome’s completion and maintenance. Donors will receive regular updates on the structure’s progress and may have their company or family name placed on a plaque within the dome.

“The baseline cost is about $2,000 to finish the interior,” Dixon said. “Obviously, anything over that amount we’ll put into the dome. We’d like to plant an exterior bed for vegetable gardens; some money can go there. We might bring in guest speakers and use money for long-term funding of plants and seeds. We’d like to grow flowers eventually, to use for school dances. Some of our teachers have worked with the West Virginia DNR to raise trout in the classroom, and we’d like to move the containment system outside to the dome, but our immediate need is to finish building the interior.”

For more information or making donations, contact Caitlyn Dixon at cdixon@mail.kana.k12.wv.us.