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"Coast Guard to the rescue"

Cutter Steadfast crew helps Astoria Middle School finish passive solar greenhouse project

"Coast Guard to the rescue"

ALEX PAJUNAS — The Daily Astorian

The Daily Astorian
>>click here for original article

When Chief Warrant Officer Matt Zytkowitcz heard there was a project at Astoria Middle School that required a slew of capable hands to complete, he knew who could get it done. 

Zytkowitcz is the engineer onboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast and though usually homeported in Astoria, the 210-foot ship is out of water getting a major multimillion dollar overhaul at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, Md. 

Social Competencies teacher Bill Shively had mustered donated building materials and services from more than 25 different donors for a passive solar green house on the campus, and after breaking ground in December, had laid the concrete foundation. 

But a June 3 open house was looming on the calendar, and Shively still needed the manpower to get the structure framed and finished. 

While only a few of Zytkowitcz' shipmates actually had construction experience in similar projects, that didn't stop the crew from tackling the task. 

"We're sailors, but we can get things done. We're 'Steadfast' - just like the name. We'll do whatever," Zytkowitcz said. 

Good timing

The ship's captain, Cmdr. Jose Jimenez, said the school's request couldn't have come at a better time. 

"Under normal circumstances, completing such an extensive project as this one would have been extremely difficult due to our hectic operational tempo," Jimenez said. But because of the eight-month dry dock, it was easier to find the time - they've put about 800 hours into the job already. They started the job the first week of May, and about 20 of the crew came to work on the project each day.

The job matched Jimenez' criterion that the work would enhance the community or the environment, he said.

"The greenhouse project seemed a perfect opportunity to both further our relationship with our local community and to provide meaningful employment for some of our crew," Jimenez said. 

While the ship is in dry dock, from January to late summer, the crew has dispersed across the country. Some will go to specialty schools, called "C" schools, and others will be going to college full-time and to other community projects, including work with the Department of Forestry, the city of Astoria, and the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Service. All throughout the dry dock period, crew members will be returning to Baltimore in shifts to supervise the ship's renovation.

By the numbers

The ship's crew participated in about 700 man hours of community service last year, said Ensign Thomas Mansour, an assistant navigator onboard Steadfast. 

In one project, they took a break during the trip to the  Coast Guard Yard on New Year's Eve day and 14 members helped clean up Key West's mangrove fringe within the Western Sambos Ecological Reserve. In October, the crew hosted a haunted ship on Halloween, bringing in food donations for Clatsop Community Action's food bank.

Shively called the Steadfast crew's contribution "incalculable," and estimated that with everything that's been contributed to the project so far - not including architect Anthony Stopiello's plans - donations tally to over $30,000. The June 3 open house is still on the calendar, and big plans are in the works for fall semester.

The passive solar greenhouse will be a learning tool in a number of ways while providing food that can be incorporated into school meals. Students will eat the food they grow - the vegetables will be used as ingredients in the district's free summer meals, for example - and the greenhouse will be incorporated into science and other curriculum, Shively said. 

The structure's solar technology will keep the space warm in the winter and cool in the summer without electricity. Rainwater will be collected, and because of nearby water sources, the building won't need to be plumbed. Many of the materials in Stoppiello's design are recycled, like the more than 60 bus shelter windows that make up the south-facing wall. Each sturdy 42-pound double-glazed pane came free from Seattle's Metro of King County.

'Nice diversion'

For Sam Masri, a boatswain's mate, working on the project felt familiar. Masri was a framer in California about 10 years ago, before joining the Coast Guard.

"It's fun, it's a nice diversion from what we normally do," Masri said.

While no one on the team had built a building like this before, it helped that they'd worked together already on the ship in so many other situations, he said. Each person had a skill that they could contribute.

"We had to pool everyone's knowledge to make it work - that's pretty much standard for the Coast Guard. We make due. We're resourceful," Masri said.

Zytkowitcz said the Steadfast crew is one of the best he's worked with.

"We can take on just about anything and feel confident about it," he said.


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