ATHENS, Ga. — Athens Montessori School is going solar, and not timidly.
Workers were busy on a Tuesday installing three huge solar arrays that will gather the energy of the sun and convert it into electricity, perhaps enough to supply the entire school’s energy needs.
All morning, classes came out to the field behind the Barnett Shoals Road school to watch as workers with Madison’s Sun Solar World installed the big tracking panels, which will follow the sun’s arc through the sky so the solar collectors can gather the maximum possible sunlight.
“It’s really cool,” said Mary Miller, 7, as she looked on with her classmates in teacher Aleshia Laughner’s class.
A giant crane picked up the 32-panel solar arrays one by one, placing each one on a tall, stout metal pipe, then holding it in place while Sun Solar owner Josef Kullman connected wires and bolted the array in place as the three-ton structures dangled over his head.
“I haven’t seen a solar panel being built. I think it’s cool that I’ve experienced it,” said Adam Barber, 7.
Jack Ingalls, 8, planned to draw some pictures for his parents when he got home so they could know what it looked like.
Athens Montessori director Warren McPherson thinks the solar arrays are cool, too. In the first place, they fit in with the 290-student school’s strong environmental emphasis.
The school has won numerous awards for sustainability efforts, including recycling programs that began years ago.
The school won the countywide school recycling award again this year, collecting 6.8 pounds per student in one month, said Tita Gatrell, who teaches movement classes at the school and is a member of the school’s board.
School community gardens have become popular in the past few years, but Montessori students have been gardeners since the school first opened its doors with just 20 students 35 years ago, McPherson said.
The Montessori board turned to local companies for the project, McPherson said. Kullman’s Sun Solar World Company is based in Madison, the solar cells that convert sunlight into electricity were made by a company called Suniva, which has a factory in Norcross. Even the Phoenix Crane that hoisted the arrays into place is local, McPherson said.
The project might actually pay for itself in as little as six years, McPherson believes.
The array costs about $180,000, but the Montessori’s electric bill will fall dramatically. The school will even be able to sell some of the power the arrays generate back to utility companies on days when the school’s electric demand is low.