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Lincoln Charter students work to clean up Hope Street Garden as they get it ready for its sixth growing season. York Dispatch

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Hope Street Learning Lab will be opening a community aquaponics classroom this summer, following plans announced in November to install a hydroponics lab.

"We are super excited about it, and the ability to partner with somebody like Dr. Bracey-Green — it really is phenomenal," said Blanda Nace, executive director of York City's Redevelopment Authority.

Jamie Bracey-Green, director of the Center for Inclusive Competitiveness at Temple University's College of Engineering, is partnering with the Hope Street nonprofit to donate shipping containers for its aquaponics and hydroponics in York City.

The partnership comes through a local chapter of MESA — Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement — housed in the center, to bring more of those studies to underserved areas.

More: Hope Street lab looks to buy stretch of York City property

Hydroponics and aquaponics are two urban farming techniques in which plants are grown in water without soil and fertilized with fish waste. These techniques often help provide fresh produce in food deserts.

Groundbreaking for the classroom is expected to commence March 31, and with it will be other additions to the Hope Street property, including a greenhouse next to the lab on the east side and a mint and herb garden on the west side.

The produce would be donated to the community. One shipping container is the equivalent to planting on 2 acres of ground, said Hope Street Executive Director Anne Clark.

Clark said the learning lab has been offering produce to residents in the city's west end for years, and the goal is to expand those efforts.

"It really is a neighborhood asset," Nace said of the planned farming technology, noting that the west end is definitely a priority in the city, but the need for food is even broader.

"The city in its entirety is a food desert," he said. "Anything we can do to change that is a step in the right direction." 

York College and Temple will work with Hope Street on design to allow some natural light in the shipping containers so they'll fit in with their environment, Clark said.

"I really want the indoor classroom to be part of outside," she said, but the challenge will be also keeping them dark enough to allow the artificial light needed for the hydroponic and aquaponic farming techniques.

More: West Shore aquaponics supports urban agriculture, STEM education

Clark, who is also the director of outreach for Lincoln Charter School, said Hope Street is also working with the state Department of Education to match standards for the new classroom with each grade level.

It would be available to all York County schools, as well as adult residents.

The cost of the project is about $10,000, which Clark plans to cover through financial or material donations of items such as paint, desk chairs and solar panels.

The nonprofit is also looking at partnerships with Crispus Attucks York and York County School of Technology on some building elements and possible student mentoring.

Annual maintenance costs of Hope Street Learning Lab, which will increase about $5,000 with the additions, would be offset in part by giving students the opportunity to plant and sell flowers.

Clark also plans to meet with the RDA in May to purchase the lab's property. Hope Street has an agreement with the authority to operate for a year, but it does not own the property. 

Nace said it will be up to the RDA's board to decide, but the authority has been working to assemble all the Hope Street properties into one parcel. The RDA owns several, one is privately owned and two are owned by the city.

The new aquaponics classroom is slated to open by July.

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