New South Loop Catholic school goes green up top
08/08/2012 10:00 PM
This summer has been an epically hot one in Chicago. Temperatures have approached and broken record highs since spring, as the sun has borne down with excessive strength on the city.
But one school in the South Loop has been taking advantage of the sun’s generosity since May. Old St. Mary’s School at 1474 S. Michigan Ave. has 40 new solar panels on its roof, sucking in light and putting it to good use.
It’s a new addition to the school that’ll allow them both to save money and teach the kids about energy, the school’s principal, Mary Lee Calihan, said.
“We’re hoping that kids have an understanding of what the benefit is,” Calihan said. “We believe that if you teach children the importance of being good stewards of our planet and its resources, then it’ll pay off in the long term.”
They’ll show the kids just how green their school is with a computer monitor near the school’s front door, which will show just how much energy the panels are generating at any given time, as well as how much they’ve generated over their total lifespan at Old St. Mary’s. The school’s science lab will also have its own monitor.
Since the 40 panels were powered up on the roof this spring, they’ve generated 3.7 megawatt-hours of energy, as of Monday. According to the website that monitors the solar panels’ output, that’s about enough energy to power 122 homes for one day.
The money for the project came from an anonymous donor who wanted to pay for a green project when they were building the new school, which opened last fall. Originally, a solar panel company had approached Old St. Mary’s about installing just one panel in the parking lot, and using it to teach the kids about renewable energy.
“I’m not sure all of us were committed to that,” Calihan said. “We wanted it to do something. We wanted the kids to know it was there, but we wanted it to really make a difference in years to come on our electric bill.”
That’s when the donor stepped in and said, “What if we put in 40?” Calihan said.
Brian Leonard, a South Loop resident who’s the father of a 10-year-old girl at the school, as well as a parishioner at Old St. Mary’s Church, led the school’s LEED volunteer team during construction.
The entire project, he said, cost about $89,000. Over the course of an entire year, they’re hoping the school could save as much as 5 to 7 percent on their electric bill; it could provide as much as 20 percent of their electricity on some days in the summer.
The panels aren’t accessible to kids, being that the only way to get to the roof is through a ladder in a utility closet. But they’re still excited to teach the students about it.
“Our donor is very committed to kids understanding what this means,” Calihan said. “We’re a very green school.”