From left, Sam Jones, Dean of Students; Beverly Rollings, Sacred Heart Foundation President; Fr. Mark Miller, C.PP.S.; Angela Hostetler, School Advisory Council President; Mayor John Kehde; Steve and Karen Ellebracht; David Dick, Parish Council President; and Vaughn Prost, CEO of Missouri Solar Applications.

Sacred Heart School administrators, faculty, staff, students and patrons quite possibly are humming “Here Comes the Sun” following the April 5 groundbreaking of a solar array project. 

The 100-kilowatt solar electricity generation array is expected to save the school up to $15,000 annually in utility costs, according to school administrators. Those savings could potentially be even greater if utility rates increase. 

The total cost of the project is estimated at $330,000. It is fully funded through grants and private donations from long-time Catholic education supporters and Sacred Heart parishioners, Steve and Karen Ellebracht, according to a press release.  

"This is truly a gift that will pay dividends for generations to come," Principal Dr. Mark Register said in the release. "The fact that a project of this magnitude can become reality completely through grants and private donations is awe inspiring. Sacred Heart works because so many people continue to come together as a community to make it so."

Rather than a ground-mounted option that limits use of valuable land, the array will be installed as a canopy structure over part of the parking lot west of the school’s gymnasium, according to information supplied to the Democrat. Officials describe the location as “ideal” to maximize sun exposure. Register said the roof was not designed to hold the additional weight of the panels.

In addition to the physical use of the panels the project will be as a learning tool for SHS students. 

The Ellebrachts are active volunteers at Sacred Heart School. Mr. Ellebracht is a member of the Sacred Heart School Foundation and a frequent guest chemistry teacher. His wife is the school librarian. 

“One of the real gems we found in Sedalia is Sacred Heart School,” he said in the release. “We wanted to give something to the school that would continue to give, and a solar array will certainly do that. We also wanted something that would enhance the value and the aesthetics of the campus and we think this will." 

Ellebracht plans to use the project as a hands-on educational project for science classes, according to school representatives.

The work, which has been approved by Bishop Shawn McKnight, is strongly supported by the diocese and is in alignment with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Environmental Justice Program.

Sacred Heart Foundation President Bev Rollings noted there are several reasons the school is excited for the project. 

“Sensibility and sustainably controlling costs while enhancing educational value to our students is one leg of our strategic growth plan, along with growing our enrollment and our scholarship endowment,” Rollings told the Democrat. “This is on the cutting edge of educational opportunities for our students, immersing them in critical thinking for a new energy economy.

“Finally, but certainly not least, the project perfectly aligns with Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, which calls for swift unity of action in caring for our common home,” she added. 

Work on the project is expected to continue through May.

According to the release, the construction timeline is driven by the Kansas City Power & Light Solar Power Rebate program that will end in June, and by the desire to take advantage of the energy produced by summer sunshine. 

The release states the solar array will be set up on a net meter basis with KCP&L. When the array produces more than the school is using on that meter, the energy flows back into the KCP&L power grid, which the school then receives credit for. Energy calculations indicate the solar array will cover the cost of nearly one-fourth of the power consumed by the school.

Education Reporter

Hope Lecchi is the education reporter for the Democrat, covering all things education in Sedalia and Pettis County, as well as providing general assignment and feature coverage. She can be reached at 660-530-0144.

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