South St. Paul

South St. Paul Schools sets sights on solar

"A great asset and opportunity for years to come!”

Sunny Outlook

 

Each day over 3,600 students fill the hallways and classrooms of South St. Paul Public Schools, whose mission is to “Ignite a passion in every learner to inquire, continuously improve and engage in positively changing our world.”

In January 2019, the school board for the district made a major step forward in continuous improvement and positive change by authorizing district staff to enter into an agreement to consider installing solar panels at Kaposia Elementary. In July, the contact was approved with IPS Solar and planning for installation is underway.

 

Getting buy-in, bids, and support

In April 2018, the South St. Paul School Board approved a non-binding letter of intent to work with the Solar Possible team to share information, evaluate potential options, and perform site visits to explore installing solar panels in the district. Through this process, the district identified Kaposia Education Center as a potential site of solar panels, given the age and structure of the building.

Last fall, interested solar developers submitted proposals to the State of Minnesota Office of Enterprise Sustainability, a key partner in Solar Possible. South St. Paul Public School representatives from district administration and the school board met frequently with the Solar Possible team, and ultimately with IPS Solar, to determine the viability of the project and alignment with district strategic directions and resources.

Director of Finance, Aaron Bushberger, and Director of Buildings and Grounds, Glen Birnstengel, were involved in many of the conversations over the last year about whether solar was a good option for South St. Paul Public Schools. “In addition to meeting with the Solar Possible team and IPS Solar, we’ve engaged with our architects, roofing companies, insurance agent and other school districts who are participating in a solar program to determine whether this was a good decision for our district,” Bushberger said. “Overall, we were impressed with the knowledge, experience and passion the representatives from Solar Possible and IPS Solar showed, and we are excited to be able to move forward.”

The School Board reviewed the proposal and engaged in extended discussions about the proposal. According to Birnstengel, in the end, it was determined that, “there are projected cost savings by implementing this project, with very limited downside risk. Not to mention an improvement in energy efficiency with a commitment to more sustainable and environmentally conscious energy production.” He noted that the panels are lightweight, compact and will not be visible from the ground level. When asked about negative impacts to the roof of the building, company representatives noted that in their almost 30 years of experience, they have not had any roof issues after installing solar panels.

The Solar Possible team had representatives visit with our School Board and answer any questions they had. This made the decision-making process straightforward and transparent. When the time came for the School Board to make a decision, they had all of the information they needed to decide to move forward with the project. This is going to be a great asset and opportunity for our district for years to come!

Aaron Bushberger, Director of Finance, South St. Paul Public Schools

The students aren't the only ones learning

Keeping the School Board informed from day one is a key ingredient to success, notes Bushberger. “The Solar Possible team had representatives visit with our School Board and answer any questions they had.  This made the decision-making process straightforward and transparent.  When the time came for the School Board to make a decision, they had all of the information they needed to decide to move forward with the project.”

Another lesson learned: negotiating the contract isn’t always a quick and easy process. “It took longer than we had originally expected,” noted Bushberger. “The governmental entity needs to be able to devote some time and resources to focus on the contract phase. There were some technical pieces of the contract that I was not familiar with.”

IPS has a number of school clients, and as a result, has developed a curriculum and professional development program around solar energy specifically tailored to schools. And there is a potential alignment with our STEM and IB curriculum and focus areas, engaging our students in real-world learning experiences.

Dave Webb, Superintendent, South St. Paul Public Schools

Looking forward to all the benefits

According to Superintendent Dave Webb, the benefits of the project reach beyond operational savings. “IPS has a number of school clients, and as a result, has developed a curriculum and professional development program around solar energy specifically tailored to schools,” he said. “And there is a potential alignment with our STEM and IB curriculum and focus areas, engaging our students in real-world learning experiences.”

Bushberger is excited about what the future hold for the district. “This is going to be a great asset and opportunity for our district for years to come!”