How to decommission greenhouses – sustainably

UVic Nursery Greenhouse
The "Nursery" greenhouse. (Photo by Nazir Jessa)

By John Ho, Sustainability Coordinator

August 2016

How do you solve a problem like disposing of old greenhouses? That was the question that UVic Facilities Management and Purchasing Services had to deal with recently.


In the early 70s, UVic purchased the two greenhouses, dubbed the “Nursery,” and located them near the Saunders building complex at the north end of campus. Over the years, the Nursery was used for growing plants for use around campus, as well as for the annual plant sale.

But, with the plant sale no longer happening, the greenhouses had fallen into disuse over the last year and, with Facilities in need of expanded workshop space in that part of campus, the decision was made to dispose of the greenhouses and build a new service building on the site. But what to do with two large glass and metal structures?

UVic greenhouse arial view

The Challenge

UVic is committed to constructing all new buildings on campus to LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified standards, which requires that disposal of any old buildings be done sustainably. So, while the easy solution would have been to demolish the greenhouses and recycle the steel, aluminum and glass, it made sense to try and sell them first. This is where Purchasing Services came into the picture.

Not only was a buyer needed, but they also needed to agree to use the buildings for sustainable practices. This means that the ideal buyer would intend to repurpose the greenhouses, rather than recycle its parts. So how do you find someone who wants to purchase a greenhouse? Plan A was putting it on sale on BC Bid but the university received no responses. Plan B was to try and sell it via BC Auction; however, this option was not ideal because it would be hard to ensure that the buyer would use the greenhouses sustainably.

Thanks to some great work by Stephen Wylie, the Surplus Asset Coordinator for Purchasing Services, an alternative was found. He recalled a customer in the past who had purchased some hanging racks salvaged from the old Maltwood Gallery. Over the course of their conversations, the customer had mentioned that he ran an organic co-op farm on Salt Spring Island – the EcoReality Sustainable Land Use and Education Cooperative. Although these talks had taken place back in 2011, any lead was worth a shot.

After digging through old emails, Stephen found the contact information and reached out. After some back and forth correspondence, an agreement was reached for the sale of the greenhouses.

inside UVic greenhouse

Current Status

The deconstruction started at the beginning of August, has been proceeding well and is expected to be complete by the end of the month. Asbestos abatement was undertaken before the deconstruction began.

As you might expect, getting rid of a greenhouse isn’t an easy task, especially if you want to do it sustainably. But, with some creativity and outside-the-box thinking, a couple of UVic assets that can no longer be used on campus will find new homes and new purpose on Salt Spring Island, where they will be used to grow fresh organic produce for many to enjoy. A winning solution for everyone!

Photos courtesy of Stephen Wylie