The project, which will take place at Hinsdale Central and South high schools, will cost $101,000. It will be financed entirely by grants and money raised during local fundraisers.
On March 17, the District 86 Board of Education announced Continental Electric Construction Co. will complete the panel installation for about $69,000.
In addition to the community and student support, Hinsdale Central science department chairwoman Lisa Fernandez and Hinsdale South science department chairwoman Julie Gaubatz were instrumental figures during the planning phase.
Fernandez said the project unfolded after a group of students attended a summer environmental youth conference for three consecutive years. A conference stipulation suggested attendees return to their respective classes, share their findings and propose an environmental project.
“The first-year students chose individual projects, but the second-year kids  wanted to do something larger scale,” Fernandez said.
As a result, students from the ecology club at Hinsdale Central and members of the environmental concerns club at Hinsdale South suggested installing solar panels at the high schools.
Thereafter, Gaubatz said students and parents held several fundraisers while teachers began drafting grant proposals.
“The PTO did a huge amount of fundraising and then we also had parents who just donated and made contributions,” Gaubatz said.
The solar panels will not only be instrumental teaching tools in science and math departments, but school officials intend to also utilize the panels “across the curriculum,” according to D86 staff.
“An investment planning class would look at whether or not it’s a wise business investment to invest in green technology,” Fernandez said. “In English class, in discussion and debate, they would debate the merit of encouraging other school districts to take on a project like this.”
But the science departments will undoubtedly benefit the most, as staff is already planning hands-on lessons about alternative energy technologies and how to monitor the panels’ energy use in real time.
“I think the part that’s incredibly neat is that we will be getting real time data from our solar panels and so kids will be able to actually see that on their computers and even on their hand held devices and be able to look at the data in real time,” Gaubatz said.
Fernandez said a typical concern with solar panel projects is the installation cost, but because of the avid work by the district and the communal generosity, that is no longer an issue.
“By fundraising all of the money, the entire cost of materials and installation, [the solar panels] will start making once they’re installed,” she said.
Fernandez said it depends on exact kilowatts used at each high school, but the estimated cost savings on electricity will be between $1,500 and $2,000 annually.
After selecting the bid from Continental Electric Construction Company, District 86 facility consultant John Neiweem said the district will have about a $20,000 surplus as a result of the generous community donations.