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Green Energy Lab is Up and Running at Conard

The Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools, which provided a special initiative grant for the construction of the lab, held a ribbon cutting Tuesday afternoon at Conard High School.

It has taken several years to rise from the ground in front of athletic facilities, but with the cutting of a green ribbon Tuesday afternoon, West Hartford's Green Energy Community Lab has been officially launched.

This project has been a team effort from the , to the grant writing, to obtaining signatures from neighbors to secure a Special Use Permit from the , to the building design and construction.

Dr. Richard Fritz (Conard/Sedgwick/Bristow Science Department Supervisor) and Pat Drago (Department of Technology Supervisor) originally applied for a Special Initiative Grant from the .

The Foundation ultimately awarded a special initiative grant, but it took additional fundraising and the collaboration of many students, adminstrators, town officials, corporations, and individuals to make the lab a reality. in every aspect of the design, engineering, building and implementation of the project.

Although it is physically located at Conard, the green energy community lab is a working display lab designed for use by the entire community – not just Conard students. According to the Foundation for West  Hartford Public Schools, it offers access to "Alternative Energy Technologies in hands-on, interactive ways," and includes a 40-foot wind spire, solar panels, passive solar technology, and a geothermal well.

Clare Dowd, president of the board of the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools likened the process of bringing the energy lab to fruition to a formula: method plus means (generous community support) to the ninth power, multiplied by innovation, equals a sustained impact. "This is a project that continues to generate positive resources for the entire community," Dowd said.

"This is not intended to be a finished product – it's just that – it's a laboratory. It's a prime example of STEM," said Superintendent of Schools Karen List. STEM is an acronym often used in today's education agenda, and stands for "Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics."

Some interior finish work still remains to be completed, but those involved with the energy lab project wanted to hold the ribbon cutting prior to the end of this school year, Drago said. Some spaces in the wall which are intentionally left without insulation, however, so that adiffernt types of insulation can be tested in the lab for effectiveness.

The floor of the lab will be heated, said Drago, with tubing connected to the soon-to-be-drilled geothermal well. The tubes will also run under the sidewalk in front of the lab, keeping that area ice-free throughout the winter.

The solar panels and wind turbine are already in place and hooked up to the power grid, providing some of the energy used to power Conard. Tony Truss, whose engineering and architectural design students have been intensely involved in the lab's creation, said the output is not large – about 3.5 kilowatt hours, or about 30 to 40 percent of a residential pull – but that's not really the intention of the lab.

"The idea is to spread public awareness," Truss said. "[The wind spire] is there, it's quiet, birds aren't flying into it. It breaks down negative stereotypes," he said.

Truss also pointed out architectural features designed by the students, such as a passive solar overhang which will block the sun's rays in the summer months when it is high in the sky, but will allow sunlight to warm the lab during the winter months.

Dougie Trumble, who helped launch the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools with her late friend Heather Congdon, said she saw the energy lab as the "culmination of the 15 years of giving grants by the foundation."

When the energy lab project was running short of funding due to unforseen extra expenses, Trumble's mother, together with her husband Tom, helped personally close the funding gap by making a personal donation in honor of Dougie Trumble's 65th birthday.

CL&P and OPEL Solar also stepped in and supported the lab.

"Programs like this are fantastic for the students. Programs like this never used to be available at the high schools," said Ed Linke, representing Opel Solar at the ribbon cutting.

Michael Haeflich, who is now director of Emergency Coordination with CL&P, helped secure a $3,125 donation from his company which funded the last two items needed to complete the energy lab.

"I feel like I've come full circle," Haeflich said at the ribbon cutting. He and his wife are both Conard graduates, and daughter Melanie is currently a junior.

"We're very excited to have a college-level facility on our high school campus. We know it will benefit the entire community. It really did happen with community support," said Conard Principal Peter Cummings.

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