Hours of work on a new Finley Junior High greenhouse during the past two years has been smashed by vandals, a science teacher and Parent-Teacher Organization president said.
All summer, Finley students and science teacher Brandi Domkowski have been checking on their greenhouse once a week to two weeks. Tuesday, Domkowski and her daughter walked through a chain link gate to the greenhouse on the backside of the campus only to find windows shattered by wood, glass scattered on the floor and plants smothered by too much heat. The greenhouse was just about a month away from being dedicated to the school’s former principal, now Domkowski and the students are asking for help to rebuild it.
“My kids are going to be devastated, they’ve been working on it two years,” Domkowski said. “We started building compost bins. My principal who just retired, Ms. [Ruth] Sutton, showed me this space. It was full of trash and you can see it was covered in tar. The kids had scraped up a lot of the majority of it and we replaced all the gravel. It was full of cigarette butts and trash and now, it’ll all have to be replaced again.”
Parents and students spent hours bringing in 3,000 pounds of gravel with buckets and shovels because the truckload couldn’t be driven close to the greenhouse. They built planter boxers outside, put in the wood and built the pallet seeding stations as well.
“They were trying to get it all done,” Domkowski said, pointing to an engraved stone sitting on a warped wooden table. “One of the parents had this made at his job so that we could dedicate the space to Ms. Sutton because she loves the greenery. She comes up here every weekend and weeds the gardens and she’s just a big avid gardener and we wanted to dedicate this space to her. She’s been here for 45 years and so we’ve been working for two years to get it done, and we were hoping by the end of the summer that it would be finished. And really, we were hoping to be done by the end of the school year, but it rained so much we couldn’t get out here.”
Now, the building is just a shell, she said. It’s all gone.
Her daughter Carolyn Domkowski, 14, and an incoming Global High School freshman, reached out Tuesday night to alert the other students. She’s the financial officer for Finley’s Horticulture Club. Rain, wind, cold or heat, the students were out there to keep up and develop the greenhouse, Brandi said.
“They were upset. They couldn’t believe it, they were so upset,” Carolyn said. “I was angry. Now that all that work is done, we have to start over. It sucks really.”
Finley does have security cameras on campus nearby the greenhouse, but none that point specifically toward the greenhouse, Brandi said. She added she informed the principal, who will be looking at the footage from nearby cameras for anything that could identify who vandalized the greenhouse. Then, the issue is expected to be turned over to Waxahachie ISD administration to follow proper policies and procedures.
“I don’t know how any of that is going to work. They may or may not be able to replace any of the windows and doors,” Brandi said. “We’re so early in the process right now. They probably won’t replace anything that was in the greenhouse, especially since it was donated and the district didn’t buy it to start with. Everything you see was either donated or the funds were raised by the kids.”
About $350-$400 for the greenhouse came from money raised by the students. Several hundred more dollars worth of items like plants, gravel, tools and shovels were also donated by local businesses to get the project started.
“The good thing is it doesn’t look like anything was stolen as best as I can tell,” Brandi said. “The tools and everything we have were left. The biggest money items will be repairing the greenhouse and replacing the gravel that was very expensive. I don’t know yet if the wood will have to be replaced or if it’s going to be able to be flipped and put back down. I don’t know yet.”
The greenhouse was also supposed to be incorporated into Finley’s classroom learning this fall, Brandi said. Once it was officially up and running, the greenhouse was supposed to provide real life science opportunities and engagement thorough inquiry-based learning for the junior high, which holds sixth through eighth grade students, Brandi said.
“The students were supposed to finish some picnic benches out here so they could come out here and sit, and do creative writing lessons. The math department talked about coming out here and being able to do measurements on plants,” Brandi said. “Obviously, the science department would have used it for lots of different purposes — composting, photosynthesis, all kinds of things like that. We wanted to make it where everybody could use it and enjoy it, and have a space that’s not inside, you know?”
Wendy Shappard and her 13-year-old daughter Maddie Shappard have been involved in the greenhouse building since the beginning — be it by spreading the word to help bring in donations or helping clean up the space.
“You meet Ms. D, and you see her and the way she talks about the kids, and you know how passionate she is about her students,” said Wendy, Finley’s PTO president. “My daughter’s here seven to eight hours a day, and they’re with teachers like Ms. D, so that makes Finley a part of our family. That’s the way I think we should treat it.”
Wendy and Brandi have already seen parents and fellow students, and even residents they don’t know, step up and offer donations to help. They’re considering working with Global High’s Interact Club, the Waxahachie Girl Scouts and a few other organizations. If people are interested in donating, the students need more gravel, wood, plants and herbs, vegetables and trees, windows and screens, and a new door as well as soil to plant things in, Brandi said. Those who want to help can call Wendy at 972-825-9389.
At the end of the day though, Maddie said, this won’t stop the students from dedicating the spot to Sutton and she wants whoever damaged the greenhouse to know that. The moment will just be a bit delayed, she said, but it’s unclear how long the rebuilding process will take to complete this time around.
“We won’t give up. We will try to repair this as best as we can, and it will show them that we never quit,” Maddie said.