Following months of planning and research, Sacred Heart School leadership broke ground on Friday for construction of a solar panel array canopy, a gift fully funded through grants and a private donation.

The 100-kilowatt solar electricity generation array carries a 30-year warranty (and much longer lifespan) and is expected to save up to $15,000 annually in utility costs, with even greater annual savings anticipated as utility rates increase.

School and church leadership, students, parents, faculty, staff, church members general contractors and others gathered to break ground on the project.

"This is truly a gift that will pay dividends for generations to come," said Dr. Mark Register, Sacred Heart School administrator. "The fact that a project of this magnitude can become reality completely through grants and private donations is awe inspiring. Sacred Heart works because so many people continue to come together as a community to make it so."

Attendees to the groundbreaking were able to visit with school leadership and with those involved with the project to learn more about the construction, installation, technology behind the solar array and cost savings benefits of solar technology. Guests also had a chance to view renderings of the new structure and a map of parking plans during the construction phase.

Rather than a ground-mounted option that limits use of valuable land, the array will be installed as a canopy structure over part of the parking lot west of the new gymnasium, an ideal location to maximize sun exposure. Register said initial plans were to place the panels on the roof of the school.

However, upon detailed structural analysis, it was determined that the roof structure was not designed to hold the additional weight of the panels. In addition to the substantial cost savings through clean energy, the overall project will add to the aesthetic and real value of the school and as a bonus, provide shade and covered parking.

Construction is will continue through May of 2019. The construction timeline is driven by the Kansas City Power & Light Solar Power Rebate program that will end in June, and by the desire to take advantage of the energy produced by summer sunshine.

Total cost of the project, estimated at $330,000, is funded entirely through grants and a private donation from long-time Catholic education supporters and Sacred Heart parishioners, Steve and Karen Ellebracht. Both are active volunteers at Sacred Heart School. Steve is a member of the Sacred Heart School Foundation and a frequent guest chemistry teacher and Karen is the school librarian.

"When Karen and I moved to Sedalia a couple of years ago, we wanted to get involved with education, " said Steve. "Karen and I have five children and education was a key part of wherever we lived, and we've lived in a number of places around the world. One of the real gems we found in Sedalia is Sacred Heart School. We wanted to give something to the school that would continue to give, and a solar array will certainly do that. We also wanted something that would enhance the value and the aesthetics of the campus and we think this will."

Steve also plans to use the project as a unique, hands-on educational project for science classes.

The work, which has been approved by Bishop Shawn McKnight, is strongly supported by the diocese and is in alignment with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Environmental Justice Program.

"As an educational institution as well as responding to Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si, this solar array is a visible expression of how we can utilize the God-given resources in a way that is both a financial benefit as well as an expression of good stewardship," said Father Mark Miller, C.PP.S., "May we continue to make connections between the natural creation and our own creative imagination as we move forward in bringing about the Kingdom of God. As St. Francis of Assisi understood, all of life is our brother or sister."

The Ellebrachts are working through the Sacred Heart School Foundation to give this gift. Architects, engineers and business leaders from the school community are volunteering their time for advice and consulting. Subcontractors include Missouri Solar Applications for the solar array, Medallion Electric for the electrical interconnections, Jackson Concrete Design for the footings, and Arning Companies for the steel canopy structure.

The solar array will be set up on a net meter basis with KCP&L. When the array produces more than the school is using on that meter, the energy flows back into the KCP&L power grid, which the school then receives credit for. Energy calculations indicate the solar array will cover the cost of nearly one fourth of the power consumed by the school. Inverters will record and monitor the power produced. Information from the inverters will be sent to the web for access and review.

The overall project is designed to minimize loss of parking space, and there should be no impact to local residents. No trees will be removed from the area with the possible exception of one tree located south of the parking lot.

"There are many members of the community who make this Sacred Heart exceptional and we are proud to play a part in its continued growth and success," said Steve.
For more information, contact Liz Van Leer, development director at --Submitted.

In the photo: Sam Jones, Dean of Students; Beverly Rollings, SHS Foundation President; Fr. Mark Miller, C.PP.S.; Angela Hostetler, School Advisory Council President; Mayor John Kehde; Steve & Karen Ellebracht; David Dick '80, Parish Council President; and Vaughn Prost, CEO, Missouri Solar Applications.

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