Cold Spring

Solar panels the newest addition to ROCORI Schools outdoor classroom

Collaboration blossoms with CERTs support

“The core goal of this project was to improve the outdoor classroom environment with solar while also educating the community about the many benefits of renewable energy,” shared Barb Omann, ROCORI English teacher and Environmentalist Club and Youth Eco Solutions (YES!) Team advisor.

“The most direct beneficiaries are students in the school district—ROCORI has already reached 800 youth with the solar array,” Barb continued, “and we’re currently working with teachers to incorporate solar into their science curriculum.”

How did this all get started?

The idea of using the courtyard space between the ROCORI High School and Middle School buildings as an outdoor classroom started with principal Mark Jenson and blossomed into an amazing collaboration. The pollinator garden, native grasses, a greenhouse, and a couple compost barrels are already installed and maintained by various groups, including the Area Learning Center students, Anita Hendrickx, and her Art classes, students and staff in the ELL program, and interested volunteers. The solar array is a great addition!

Laying the groundwork

Meeting ROCORI’s energy needs

The solar panels were initially installed to possibly provide power for lighting or watering, as well as an educational opportunity for students and staff, but wiring them to use the energy for specific purposes was too awkward and expensive, so they were installed to meet the general needs of the schools.

Students help with install

Making solar energy production even more visible

Aaron Busse with Minnesota Renewable Energies, Inc. met with the group and Brent Neisinger, the head of buildings and grounds at ROCORI, and together decided to install a monitor that shows the energy being produced in real time as well as over time, so it could be viewed by staff and students and used for educational purposes, as well as saving the district money. The schools are also going to post information by the panels or monitor to promote awareness of the district’s participation in off-site community solar gardens and the related energy cost savings.

Students enjoyed being part of promoting clean energy, so thanks for helping make this solar panel project possible!

Barb Omann, ROCORI English Teacher and Environmentalist Club/YES! Advisor

What lessons learned should other schools consider?

The schools would advise others to collaborate regularly with all parties involved. They had great collaboration with their principal, Mark Jenson, and the ROCORI district head of buildings and grounds, Brent Neisinger, as well as with MN Renewable Energies consultant, Aaron Busse. The school did not initially consult enough with the science department, the people most likely to use the installation for educational purposes. They had a couple science teachers on board at the start, talking with them about possible uses of the solar panel information in their classrooms, but to improve the project they would have liked to involve the science department more from the start.

  • Technology: Solar PV
  • West Central CERT Seed Grant: $1,200
  • Total Project Cost: $4,469
  • Other Funds: Youth Eco Solutions (YES!) grant, McKnight Foundation grant
  • Project Team: Aaron Busse (MN Renewable Energies), Brent Neisinger (ROCORI Head of Buildings & Grounds), Mark Jenson (ROCORI High School/Middle School Principal), Barb Omann (ROCORI Environmentalist Club & YES! Team Advisor)
  • People Involved and Reached: 855
  • Annual Energy Generated: 1,783 kWh

What’s next for ROCORI Schools?

"We plan to work with ROCORI Middle School and High School science departments to see if they would be interested in presentations to their students about solar energy," said Barb Omann. "We will also be working to make sure that the teachers know what information is available and how to access it so they can incorporate it into their lessons."

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