By the end of this year, Waupaca High School will have solar panels.
Work on the $93,000 ground-mounted solar panel project began Friday, Nov. 4. They will be online by Dec. 31 and a dedication will be held next spring.
“The investment is education – for a sustainable future,” said Kira Minehart, president of the high school’s Green Team, which pursued the idea.
In fact, less than a dozen high school students were involved. They wrote grants, met with community leaders, and presented their objective to various civic and government groups.
As a result, grants and donations are covering 100 percent of the project’s cost. Seventy percent of the total cost will be covered by grants from Wisconsin Public Service and Focus on Energy.
Jeff Dolski, a guidance counselor at WHS and the Green Team’s advisor, said they are among the last to receive funds from Focus on Energy.
More than $30,000 was raised through donations to supplement the grant dollars.
Donations ranged in size from $20 to $10,000. The Green Team also received a $4,150 grant from the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley to be used specifically for monitoring, as well as a $5,000 grant from the Waupaca Area Community Foundation.
The solar panels will be south of the high school’s green house and visible from State Higwhay 22.
“Originally, we thought about an awning system along the roof,” said Sawyer Olson, Green Team’s vice president.
However, Hoffman Corporation – the company that built the high school – felt such a system would not be best for the structural integrity of the school.
Therefore, the decision was made to go with a ground-mounted system. It was approved by the school board and will be installed by North Wind Renewable Energy, of Stevens Point.
The payback on the project is 30 years, and the school anticipates a monetary payback for excess electricity.
In a letter from the Green Team to those who contributed to the project, they say that teachers from every department are excited to access and utilize the solar panels as a teaching tool.
That will be the advantage of having the panels on the ground. It can become a solar classroom.
Of the 30-year payback on the project, he said that is a topic that can be brought into the science classrooms. “Why is the cost what it is?” he asked.
District Administrator David Poeschl said, “I am very pleased with the work of the Green Team and Mr. Jeff Dolski in bringing this project to fruition. It is a testimony to the significance of the school board’s expectations for students who graduate from Waupaca High School.
“As stated in the board’s Ends Policy, students will be expected to demonstrate academic achievement, citizenship and responsibility. This project meets all three criteria, not only for students of today, but for students who will use this system for many years as a model for moving toward sustainability.”
Alex Goke and Erin Gates, who graduated last spring from WHS, and McHailey Johnson, a junior who is a Rotary Exchange student this year, kicked off the idea, Dolski said.
Dolski said those students were aided by community members Jane Haasch and Stacia Fields-Johnson. Goke, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is now involved with Engineers Without Borders.
This school year, Minehart and Olson carried the goals forward to make them a reality.
“Seeing these two folks develop over the last year – I’ve seen changes in their confidence level, initiative and ‘do it’ attitude,” Dolski said of Minehart and Olson.
Students made the phone calls to set up the times to present their ideas to individuals and groups. Through this process, they learned valuable skills about how to engage people in a topic and sell it to them.
Poeschl said, “Student interaction with community members and the school board was also a big part of the success of this project. Both students and community members worked together and learned from each other as this project evolved to the point of presenting it to the school board for final approval.
“The fact no school district funds will be spent on this project is evidence of the Green Team’s work with the community and businesses to sell the value of this project as an educational tool, a cost-saving measure and an effort to conserve our natural resources.”
Minehart, a senior at WHS, said she has been passionate about environmental topics for some time. “This showed me the people side,” she said.
She has started an “invite the president” page on Facebook, hoping President Barack Obama will attend next spring’s dedication.
Olson said it was an incredible experience to present the information to business and community leaders. A junior in high school, the experience is now opening up new possibilities for him as he thinks about his future.
The temperature was in the mid 20s as the students headed to the site before the start of the school day for their groundbreaking ceremony last week.
There were no hard hats or big shovels.
In Green Team style, Minehart carried a simple silver spoon, using that to dig up a bit of the earth.