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The Journey “LEEDing” to Solar Panels

As the Campus Ministry affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the McKinley Foundation seeks to empower students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to live out their faith in service to others and care for the Earth.

Kathie Spegal, Board President of the McKinley Foundation, emphasizes a commitment to social justice and sustainability as driving principles of the Foundation’s work. “Our hope is that students will look back on their experiences here and remember how we modeled being good stewards for the community, and incorporate that into their lives ‘in the real world,’” she explained.

Solar Array on McKinley Presbyterian Church
Solar Array on McKinley Presbyterian Church

In 2008, the McKinley Foundation incorporated those values into the construction of Presby Hall, a residence hall option open to all university students. With its geothermal heating and cooling system, Presby Hall became the first residence building at the U of I campus certified in the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program.

Last year, it started to become obvious that the roof on the McKinley Foundation building needed to be replaced. Kathleen Robbins (who previously served as director of the McKinley Foundation and is now retired) thought it was perfect timing to consider adding solar panels.

Kathleen attended an informational meeting about solar energy organized by Faith in Place in January 2016. There she connected with other Houses of Worship in the Champaign-Urbana area that were interested in pursuing renewable energy. Together, they learned about financing options and how solar panels would save money on electricity costs in the long run.

A crane lifts the solar panels on to the roof.
A crane lifts the solar panels on to the roof.

Besides the financial savings, the motivation for Kathleen and the McKinley Foundation Board to pursue solar energy was to educate students about taking action to positively impact the environment. While the geothermal heating and cooling system in Presby Hall has a substantial impact on the building’s carbon footprint, it is hidden underground, and most students or community members don’t give it much thought. A roof full of solar panels, however, is a very visible reminder.

“We realized the solar panels would not only provide a clean source of power and save money for our community, but that they would also serve as a public witness of our commitment to care for the Earth,” said Kathleen Robbins, “Faith in Place was the catalyst for making solar panels possible for us.”

Crews started preparing the roof in May for the array.
Crews started preparing the roof in May for the array.

Sixty-eight solar panels were installed this spring and are projected to reduce the building’s carbon footprint by 19.5 tons of carbon per year. That is the equivalent of planting 97 trees per year!

The McKinley Foundation joins two other faith communities in Central Illinois that were connected through Faith in Place with the resources to make solar installation possible.

Join the McKinley Foundation in dedicating their solar panels at a special ceremony next Tuesday, June 27th at 10am!

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign President Timothy Killeen, State Senator Scott Bennett, and other community leaders will be present to celebrate the McKinley Foundation’s efforts to be renewable energy leaders.

Photos courtesy of Paula Hancock, Executive Director, McKinley Foundation.

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