Hope Street lab looks to buy stretch of York City property

Anne Clark, who is the executive director for Lincoln Charter School's Hope Street Garden and Learning Lab in York City, Thursday, June 28, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Officials with Hope Street Learning Lab aim to solidify its place in the community by purchasing the stretch of properties in York City's west end from which the lab has operated for years.

Up to seven properties could be sold to the lab's nonprofit arm for a minimum of $1,500 each, based on pricing from the city’s Redevelopment Authority, said Anne Clark, the lab's executive director.

Since 2013, the outdoor urban lab spanning properties from 420 to 438 W. Hope Ave., also known as Hope Street Garden, has hosted a number of community partners, including many schools that use their own science curriculum to teach students about agriculture and sustainability.

The RDA owns four of the properties where Hope Street operates, which organizers hope to buy. If the nonprofit waits for the RDA to acquire all seven, Clark said, it can buy the whole acre at once. The goal is to purchase this spring.

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Lincoln Charter School Facility Manager Wendell Harper, left, and and former student and summer employee Elizabeth Harper, paint the metal "CHANGE" sculpture at the center of the garden as volunteers, along with students and staff, with Lincoln Charter School's Roar For Learning Summer Program, work in Hope Street Garden and Learning Lab as they install three new mural pieces in York City, Thursday, June 28, 2018. The murals are a collaboration project that was created by volunteers from Castine Church in Arcanum, Oh., and students in the summer program. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“RDA is put in place to create economic development, and so if we don’t purchase it, it’s always an option for them to come in and say, 'you know what, somebody wants to build a bank here,'" she said.

Big anchor properties such as Hope Street are important because they add to safety and security, she said. But another important factor in securing the properties for the lab is what’s on the horizon.

The authority’s board approved a one-year license renewal for Hope Street on Wednesday, Nov. 20, which would allow Lincoln Charter School — one of its founding partners — to install a hydroponics lab.

Philadelphia-based MESA — which stands for Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement — plans to bring two shipping containers for the lab.

Hydroponics involves growing plants without soil, and because data collection and sensors are often automated and can be programmed, it adds an element of engineering and computer science for students in addition to agriculture.

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Daniel Kemper, of York Township-based Freelance York, said he's interested in partnering with Lincoln to incorporate IOT — internet of things — devices that automate and report back to a central hub.

MESA donated miniaturized 10-gallon aquaponics units to Lincoln and Crispus Attucks charter schools in November in an effort to bring more science, technology, engineering and mathematics education to underserved areas.

It’s part of an effort to bring aquaponics to 50 schools, focusing especially on the York, Allentown and Philadelphia areas.

Jamie Bracey-Green, director of the Center for Inclusive Competitiveness at MESA, is leading those efforts, and she said Gov. Tom Wolf’s wife, Frances, asked her to pay a visit to York.

“Aquaponics is a very old process,” but as more people migrate to urban settings, it’s important to have more partnerships with farming, said Bracey-Green on why there's a growing interest.

The governor recently toured a hydroponics lab at the West Shore School District that was funded with a $250,000 state grant.

Though urban agriculture will not replace rural farming, Bracey-Green said, as systems improve, it could one day help minimize fresh water usage to assist in adapting to climate change.

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