McCracken Middle School: What came first….the economic….or the energy savings?


Story written by Katie Kizer

Skokie school district 73.5 began its venture down the energy conservation path just as many other institutions do: retrofitting buildings in order to make its facilities just a bit more efficient.  What this entails is a process in which small adjustments are made to the buildings in order to lessen the daily energy use.  Specifically, District 73.5 installed motion sensors in its three schools within the more common areas to ensure that the lights come on only when individuals are present.  What subsequently took place for the three schools in this Skokie school district is unique in the face of renewable energy trends.  In 2006, both the school board and administrators decided to go forward with a program to install not only motion sensors, but also a “green/planted roof and a thermal solar panel system” on McCracken Middle School says Steve Ruelli, Director of Buildings and Grounds.

After going forward with this energy conservation plan, Mr. Ruelli began to educate himself about the available renewable energy options for the District.  What he learned was that renewable energies serve as invaluable learning tools to the students, in addition to saving money.  What is imperative to emphasize is that this movement began with the intent to save money, and discovered some very cool ways to also help out the planet.  This is a unique sequence of events.  Often times, people begin to feel guilty about the many CNN headlines entitled, “Our Earth in Peril” and begin to entertain the idea of alternative forms of energy and conservation.  After the decision has been made to pursue these alternatives, environmentalists tend to step in and outline the many ways in which institutions can actually save money through this process.  What Steve Ruelli and others from District 73.5 did was pursue these methods because they save money and they are good for the environment.  No convincing needed there.  All that is left is to carry out the project and pass on the success story.   

There are many ways to pass on this knowledge, including the education of all generations about the value of the sun’s power.  On a site visit in Skokie with my father, Glen Kizer, and Mr. Ruelli, I was able to witness the torch being passed on to the upcoming generation.  Jana Jones, Environmental Education K-12 Program Manager of the Marketing & Environmental Programs at ComEd, came out to McCracken to view the installation and discuss the nature of the project.  She brought her son, Hayden, with her to learn a little something about solar.  While he and I shared the same feeling that it was rather early to be out of bed and talking science, his interest was nothing but perked by this invention.  What Hayden and I will one day have in common is that he too will be sitting around with his friends in a class and he will be one of the only kids to have seen a solar installation at such a young age.  I should know, because much of my childhood was laced with tours of green schools and other energy-related projects.  I have memories of, for example, planting trees when I was still in the single digits.  These steps taken by parents like my father and Jana Jones will lead to at least a conviction that we must protect our environment.  While I did not understand this when I was Hayden’s age, I am now incredibly grateful that I was lucky enough to have those experiences.

Mr. Ruelli researched grants available, applied, and was awarded assistance.  Though it is not quite as easy as the snap of one’s fingers, the process of writing a proposal, applying for grants, and carrying out the project is something that any individual with a little motivation and persistence can carry out.  Steve Ruelli proves this through his experiences.  District 73.5 now has a new solar PV system, which is helping to supplement some of the schools’ energy use.  

While this is an excellent jumping off point for these teachers, students, and community, Mr. Ruelli expresses his wish “for a bigger system that could power more mechanicals.”  What is fantastic about this desire is that we only have potential advancement in our future as a society, or as many would say, ‘no where to go but up’ and these systems will only get bigger.  These projects are not designed to replace entire fossil fuel usage; they are intended to demonstrate the capability of renewable energies.  As a university student in Chicago, I have seen firsthand how those who run utility systems are not comfortable with initiating major projects up front without having witnessed the successful results.  And why should they be?  We have burned fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution, and to rapidly change this tradition is a scary thing.  District 73.5 has the appropriate mentality in that it has installed a smaller end system that can open the door for future grants and funding for a larger system.  Once an institution has evidence of both economic and energy savings, there is more of an opportunity to add on to such projects.  This District is even ahead of the curve in that it is already aware that there are both economic and energy savings with these projects.  Not only do the fine individuals within this District know these facts without any needed convincing, they are craving more.  Steve describes the sentiment upon the completion of this project.  “I really like our system and can’t wait till the students, staff and community are all able to view this at or new addition dedication.”

One Response to “McCracken Middle School: What came first….the economic….or the energy savings?”

  1. Weekend Roofer Says:

    Who did the roof work?

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