Mt. Ararat High School started classes this past week, with two major changes in store for students: they are attending in a hybrid format due to COVID-19, so only half of the population is there at a time, and they are taking classes in an entirely new, solar-powered school building.

Mt. Ararat, which serves students from the towns of Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Topsham, and Harpswell, had been in the older building since 1973, but it wasn’t designed for modern times or modern efficiency measures. Thanks to student, staff, and community input, when the time came for the old building to be demolished, the building committee knew they wanted to focus on long-term sustainability for its replacement. As a result, the new building incorporates systems set to serve the school for a long time at high performance levels, such as LED lighting, enhanced insulation, and high-efficiency window glazing. Best of all, the new building will generate almost all of its electricity on-site with a rooftop solar system.

Slightly smaller than its predecessor, the 153,000 square foot building will be heated and cooled by geothermal heat pumps. This all-electric system was chosen to reduce the overall building Energy Use Intensity (EUI) to less than 30, thus achieving a high energy performing building while minimizing natural gas consumption. Natural gas will only be used for supplemental heat in very cold winter weather, and in the kitchen’s cooking operations.

Mt. Ararat will be offsetting almost all of their electric bill – including that used for the geothermal heat pumps – with a 632 kW rooftop solar array. Comprised of 1,687 REC panels, the array will offset over 714,000 lbs of carbon annually. That’s the equivalent of removing 111 passenger cars from the road every year, or planting 8,300 trees. The solar will be incorporated into classroom activities, and there will be interpretive and educational signage in the school, as well as an online Energy Dashboard showing students the solar’s production in real-time.

The project was installed under a power purchase agreement, so there is no upfront cost to the Town. Under a PPA, an investor owns the solar array and sells electricity to the town at a discounted price. The solar system is projected to save Mt. Ararat’s school district $800,000 in energy costs over the next 25 years.

“It is exciting to see the years of planning and effort come together in the completion of the new high school.” said Mike Chonko, Sustainability Committee-Chair and Topsham resident, “The efforts of the committee members, administration, design team and construction team have resulted in a much improved learning environment for the students, staff and community members.”