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Solar Energy International’s New Digs

Posted by: april
May 28, 2010

Rachel Connor

Rachel Connor, SEI's sustainable building program coordinator, details the organization's newest classroom space for students attending our hands-on Carbondale, Colorado, workshops.


Carbondale is a distinctive community and I'd like to think it's because Solar Energy International was founded here in 1991. We help add to the character. In this funky mountain town, there is solar everywhere you turn, from the solar farm on the edge of town to nearly all public buildings. We have one of the highest number of straw bale homes per capita of anywhere in the country. Six years ago, our town council passed an energy efficiency plan to reduce emission by 30% by 2015 and we've already met our target reduction, five years ahead of schedule.

One recent sustainable project in town has been the renovation of the (my) old Carbondale Elementary School into the Third Street Center (TSC), a green facility that maintains affordable space for community and regional nonprofit organizations. This has been an exciting initiative for SEI to join. There is nothing more "green" than repurposing an existing structure and breathing new life into a space that uses less energy.  Secondly, the space will be home to non-profits and community groups focused on everything from our senior citizens to energy to the arts.  There will not be a lack of energy and excitement within the halls of this old school. 

In February, SEI began the renovation of one of our two spaces in the rotunda of the Third Street Center. Originally the Carbondale Elementary School, built in 1966, our space had been well loved, including my rowdy kindergarten class in 1983. There were bright blue cubbies to carefully remove (does anyone need cubbies?), walls to "recycle", asbestos to abate, and complicated, old electrical and plumbing issues to solve. There was also an ethic to adhere to: This was to be a true learning laboratory for those focused on implementing sustainability in their schools, community, homes or businesses. And making everything a bit more complicated, there was a tight budget! 

The emphasis of the classroom renovation was on reduced waste, the use of recycled and local materials, excellent indoor air quality for our staff and students and supporting innovative companies that have a goal of achieving a zero environmental footprint in the near future. We have also made it a priority to hire local, SEI-trained green builders and contractors to further benefit the local community and economy.

We are all moved in and our Solar Hot Water workshop took the classroom for its maiden voyage last week, without a hitch (except for the Senior Center Drum circle that provided some background music for the outdoor labs ... Oops). This new facility will enable us to have a much larger impact on general energy education and public awareness by allowing us to expand our workshop offerings, host numerous community events and host regional K-12 students for our dynamic Solar In the Schools (SIS) program.

All in all, we couldn't be happier with our new space. We hope our students feel the same way. Join us for one of our Carbondale workshops this summer and check it out for yourself. It's worth it.

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