SolarWorld solar blog

School in quiet Oregon logging town gets a big upgrade with 60 kW solar system

Posted 6 October 2011 12:00 AM by Amy Keiter, Community Relations Manager, SolarWorld Americas

You can compare what happened in the tiny Oregon logging town of Vernonia to some of the small communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina. In the winter of 2007, a series of tremendous rainstorms caused the ordinarily lazy Nahalem River to flood the town, destroying half of the community’s housing stock, many of the downtown businesses, and the entire school district: elementary, middle, and high schools. The total damage was more than $100 million.

A new school in Vernonia, Oregon will include a 60 kW solar power system
Rendering of new Vernonia school to include a 60 kW solar system

Without the schools – the heart of the community – the fate of the town was uncertain at best. But the town residents would not let Vernonia die. The 2,500 citizens passed a bond levy of $13 million, taxing themselves to build a new school, and Oregonians rallied to the cause. Business leaders from around the state joined with elected officials to re-build Vernonia, starting with the school. They began planning immediately to move the physical location of the school to higher ground out of the floodplain, and they developed a plan for a school that would anchor the community firmly in the future: a school that could serve as a model for rural communities across the nation, trying to adapt to new economies, when traditional economic engines like logging or mining wither away.

SolarWorld's Gordon Brinser onsite at the construction of the new Vernonia school
SolarWorld's Gordon Brinser onsite at the construction of the new Vernonia school

SolarWorld’s Hillsboro facility is located just 33 miles away from Vernonia, and some of our employees are residents of that community. As Community Relations Manager at SolarWorld, I saw our involvement in this project as almost inevitable…it was just something we needed to do.

When I learned that the new school was intended to be the first LEED-platinum certified K-12 school in the U.S., the case was made for me. Solar panels were in the plan, and I was determined that they were going to be our panels. A couple of phone calls and a few meetings later, we had an agreement with the school district, the contractors, and the electricians. SolarWorld would provide sharply discounted prices for our panels, saving the school district approximately $50,000, and we would also make an in-kind contribution of an additional $20,000 worth of materials.

This morning, SolarWorld president Gordon Brinser and I participated in a small announcement ceremony at the site of the new school. Gordon spoke about how proud we are to be a part of the future of the community, and how the town is tying its natural resource-based history to an sustainable, technology-based future.

SolarWorld President Gordon Brinser speaking at Vernonia school
SolarWorld's Gordon Brinser speaking at Vernonia school

Waving a “Sun at Work” sign, Oregon State Senator Betsy Johnson thanked SolarWorld for our partnership, reminding the audience that if the community hadn’t stood up first to rescue their town, no one else would have. “You’ve made this happen, “ she said, gesturing to the construction behind her.

Oregon State Senator Betsy Johnson
Oregon State Senator Betsy Johnson

And then, addressing the students in the audience, she pointed out, “The future is not the building behind me. It’s you. You’re Vernonia’s future.” The senior class of Vernonia High School hopes the gym in the new building is complete by June, for their graduation ceremonies. The new Vernonia School will welcome its first students in September 2012, and SolarWorld will be there.

Read the press release >>