Volunteerism: Energy structure at ‘Zoo school’ goes further with CNH

Firm volunteers with seniors at School of Environmental Studies, Dakota Electric and Great River Energy to expand plans and product

Over 10 years ago, energy companies, an environmental high school and CNH Architects worked together to take an alternative energy education project to a higher level.

The partners created an educational kiosk next to a wind turbine and solar panels on school grounds at the Minnesota Zoo. It displays energy production options and stats for students and the public to monitor and analyze.

Designed by CNH, it has open windows to view kilowatt production, wind speed and the solar energy, as well as the UV rating.

In 2007, two students at the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, Robert Preston and Jacob Wagner, chose the kiosk for their senior project. There were permitting applications, building design choices and a groundbreaking.

“The project included materials, a window design and even a green roof to show application of some of the principles of green architecture. All fit the concern for energy conservation,” said project Architect Wayne Hilbert, a principal with CNH. The green roof is made from trays of drought resistant plants on top of a rubber membrane roof.

Community education

Most useful to the community are three educational panels that explain how each structure operates to capture energy from the environment, or to reduce energy consumption. The chemistry and physics behind the solar panels and wind turbine are explained, as well as the kiosk’s makeup using diagrams and illustrations.

The project seeks to educate others about the multiple elements of sustainable or green design. These include water conservation, site planning, conservation of materials and natural resources, and indoor environmental quality.

Student mentoring

Well suited as partners, Preston and Wagner are both Eagle Scouts, held a strong love for the outdoors and found the interactive, hands-on learning style of the high school very attractive.

Wagner learned of the possible wind turbine for the school and shared his interest with Preston. “We jumped on it,” said Preston, who turned to CNH Architects. The firm was familiar with sustainable, energy efficient architecture and has a history of mentoring students to assist with building designs.

Hilbert, who has experience in sustainable projects, agreed to lead the effort and held an informal staff contest to find a suitable design.

Five were presented to the students. Expecting only a “shack,” Preston said the effort “went way beyond our expectations . . . it was fun to see.”  Deciding on the design that was the most practical, the students presented it to the Apple Valley City Council for permitting. 

Worldwide interest

The wind turbine and solar energy project was shared via the school’s website and got a lot of attention. School Principal Dan Bodette said the unit could provide enough energy for three homes. He was surprised by the number of inquiries received from around the world asking how others could copy the project.

“This fits with our goal, to be an ambassador for energy alternatives and share our concern for the environment,” said Bodette. He saw the kiosk as a great teaching resource for the school, and said students planned to create a program to track daily energy stats and make them available online.  

Launched for college

Groundbreaking for the project was at the end of the school year. Both Preston and Wagner were off to college during the construction phase but returned a year later to see the result.

Preston went on to study environmental science policy and management and geology at the University of Minnesota. His career goal was to work as a corporate liaison with government policymakers.  Wagner spent his first year at the University of North Dakota studying mechanical engineering and was transferring to Iowa State University to continue his studies.

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